On Tuesday 25th March, MPs voted to pass an amendment in the Deregulation Bill which would see the eventual decriminalising of the TV Licence fee. Although an encouraging development to those in the anti-TV Licence fee movement, the practical implications of a ‘civil offence’ raises many questions.
The timetable is now set for a year long review of the current despicable BBC funding arrangements. It should be noted that this amendment only gives Parliament the power to decriminalise the Licence fee after a 1 year review. It does not absolutely guarantee that it will. Certainly there is now huge political momentum behind decriminalisation of the TV Licence fee and a wide public expectation means almost certainly that Parliament will carry the amendment forward in law.
So assuming after over half a century the TV Licence is finally decriminalised to a ‘civil offence’ what next?
It should be stated at the outset that the only moral and sensible way forward is a full, free and fair choice restored to everyone over what they watch, when they watch and how. The era of ‘Aunty BBC and the man in Whitehall knows best’ is over. We are all adults and it is past high time that we should have someone else’s idea of ‘impartiality’ and ‘quality’ externally imposed on us.
If events follow the path of free and fair choice, the BBC will be funded by voluntary subscription competing for audiences with other broadcasters. You will be able to choose whether to subscribe to the BBC or not, without fear of prosecution, a criminal record or indeed even prison if you are unable to pay the fine.
The alternatives to free choice do not bear thinking about. Given the well publicised incidents of TV Licensing prosecution abuses, to give this private company the power to issue parking ticket-style ‘Penalty Charge Notices’ (PCN’s) which then require you to appear in court to prove your innocence will undeniably result in further abuses of the court process. Indeed a civil enforcement regime could result in a far more punitive system than the current regime. It has been cited that lessening the burden on the courts system is a motivator behind this amendment. If that is true then bringing in a civil enforcement regime will merely shift the problem of 180,000 criminal prosecutions a year to the civil courts. Instead of prison, poor people will again be victimised by the BBC for being poor and have the bailiffs on their doorsteps to take the fridge and telly away.
I outline the above horror scenario because it is not beyond those in power to ignore the obvious by thinking that merely making the change from ‘criminal’ to ‘civil’ will achieve anything.
Following this year long review, the only sensible and moral choice for lawmakers is to abolish an enforced TV Licence completely. If the BBC is to continue, it should be commercially viable and funded by a fully 100% voluntary subscription model.
After over half a century, UK householders will finally have the choice to subscribe to the BBC or not. The BBC will have to stand or fall on its own merits. Free choice for the individual should be restored. It really is that simple.