Monday 10 March 2014

BBC funding: the writing is on the wall

BBC: Past its sell-by date

Ill-served as we are by our tax-dodging, paedophile-enabling, fat-cattery of a state broadcaster, if its television programmes don't make you weep with despair, these numbers will...
According to the most recent figures, about 70 people a year are jailed for TV licence fee offences. But the scale of prosecutions for licence fee evasion is far higher and now accounts for one in nine of all Magistrates Court cases. More than 180,000 people – almost 3,500 a week – appeared before the Magistrates Courts in 2012, accused of watching television without a valid licence in, with 155,000 being convicted and fined.
According to the Telegraph, a tabled amendment to the current legislation would mean non-payment of the annual £145.50 charge would be a matter for the civil courts rather than a criminal offence, under plans backed by ministers. Andrew Bridgen, the Consevartive MP for North West Leicestershire, who tabled the amendment, said the wide support his proposal had received showed that the government should support it.
“For those in real hardship who cannot pay the television licence fee, the current legislation is effectively criminalising them for being poor, which cannot be right,” he said. “I and many colleagues feel that the non-payment of the TV licence being a criminal offence is disproportionate. The current funding arrangement for the BBC is a Poll Tax and is one of the most regressive forms of taxation. Most of those sent to prison as a result of non-payment are the elderly and women and this serves no purpose and the huge associated costs are borne by the taxpayer."
The BBC has reacted to the amendment with predictable special pleading. Janet Daly today helpfully saves me the trouble of de-constructing their arguments.
The BBC says that it would lose a significant proportion of funding through non-payment which would result in its having to cut back its services. It refers specifically in its public statement to reducing the number of its local radio stations. It might even, it threatens, have to start charging for the now free iPlayer and maybe (the horror!) for its web content. Well, here's the thing: if the BBC were not dumping its subsidised free products onto every conceivable platform from local radio to Internet news, the commercial market might just have a hope of becoming healthier and more genuinely competitive. Independent local radio stations would have a chance to survive, newspaper websites would not be put in the impossible position of matching the mega-funded (free) BBC news website, and the web-based subscription film market would not have to suffer the encroachment of a subsidised spoiler in their midst.
Who could disagree?  There is little practical or moral reason for the BBC to enjoy the monopoly privileges it does, and criminalising the poor and conscientious objectors for not paying such a morally bankrupt, self-obsessed, corrupt, decaying media entity has no place is a modern, first-world country.

But hold your horses.  Insomuch as a criminal conviction makes you a second class citizen in the eyes of some, moving the offence from a criminal matter, (which is somewhat trivial these days since almost everything is now a criminal offence), to a civil matter, there is still potential to ruin lives and make people actual second class citizens.  The reason being that a criminal debt cannot be entered against your credit rating.  A civil debt can.

No doubt the present TV licensing system is unfair, but there is little more frustrating than the opaque world of credit scoring whereby a simple dispute over a telephone bill can prevent a person taking out a mortgage for six years or more.  The credit ratings system is the ultimate guarantor of civil obedience. It is a system where corporates hold all the cards, with few rights for the individual who has only a toothless regulator to call upon.  In some cases, under the Money Laundering Act, a credit stain can prevent an individual from taking a job in finance or insurance - and is much more damaging than a criminal record.  Moving it into the civil domain also makes it bonanza market for bailiffs and unscrupulous debt collectors.  If you thought Crapita were bad, you should read my other blog.

Some may welcome this amendment. I do not. Rather than addressing the morally repugnant position of being forced to pay for a state media monopoly, it simply shifts the goal posts. I will not be satisfied we are an enlighted society until the BBC is consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

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