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Why I’m in favour of the TV licence

Man watching TV

The Adam Smith Institute recently called for the BBC licence fee to be scrapped. But it’s incredible value and without it the BBC wouldn’t produce the same range of high-quality programmes.

You can’t buy much for 39p. Yet that’s all the licence fee costs each day. And for that you get access to a whole world of entertainment, with two TV stations, five national radio stations, plus local services and even more available digitally and online.

Yet some people still object to paying even this tiny amount. Their argument seems to be ‘why should we have to pay for something that we might not use?’

Read Mike Briggs argue this view in his Conversation ‘Why I want the TV licence to go.’

An unfair tax?

The reality is that we accept the principle of paying for stuff we don’t use every day. I don’t have children but have to pay for schools and teachers, for example.

Libraries, museums and galleries are all financed from public funds (albeit through general taxation) and it’s accepted that we benefit from their presence, irrespective of how often we visit them. And TV and radio plays a more prominent role in our lives than any of these institutions.

And unlike in these examples, you do have a choice – you don’t have to buy a TV licence. You can even watch TV by going online (probably using the BBC’s excellent iPlayer service).

Opponents of the licence fee argue that the BBC should be self funding. Yet output from its rivals shows the limitations of commercial TV. The guaranteed income from the Licence fee allows the BBC to produce shows to suit every taste and to invest in high quality programmes. Could you seriously imagine a commercial station spending five years, and £16m, creating Planet Earth?

The dire alternative

In contrast, the commercial stations have dumbed down outrageously as they chase ratings and slash costs with reality programmes, Z-list celebrities and American reruns.

And that’s before you consider the annoyance of adverts. Oh, and if you find ads a pain, get ready for product placement in programmes, which the commercial channels are desperate to introduce in 2011.

When you consider all this, is it really any surprise that eight of the ten greatest British TV programmes (as chosen by the BFI) were shown on the BBC?

Replacing the licence fee with a subscription model wouldn’t work either. Unless it was set at an extremely high level (thereby excluding all but the wealthiest) it wouldn’t generate enough revenue, so programme quality would fall.

An independent, trusted voice

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shows on the BBC that I could live without. But the BBC isn’t run for my benefit, its for us all. And we’re tuning in – 97% of the population uses BBC services each week.

We trust it too. Polls show that over 50% favour the BBC’s political reporting over any other source (Sky came second with a measly 7%).

That’s not to say the licence fee is perfect (the limited concessions are totally insufficient), but it’s something that needs tweaking, not replacing. Without it, British TV, one of the few institutions that we can still be proud of, would wither away. And I, for one, am happy to pay 39p a day to prevent that happening.

Read the other side of the story in Mike Brigg’s ‘Why I want the TV licence to go’ here.

What do you think about the BBC TV licence fee?

I agree with Jon and think it's worth the price (58%, 156 Votes)

I agree with Mike and think it should be optional (42%, 112 Votes)

Total Voters: 268

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I am all in favour of keeping the licence fee. I am actually capable of sitting still for half an hour or even an hour and, with a good film, for over 2 hours, without my brain going into melt down. I don’t need break and I especially don’t need adverts. The joy of Sky+ is that I don’t need to watch them, but I would much rather have the BBC without them in the first place. My only problem with the BBC is that they are going the way of the commercial channels without the actual breaks i.e. “coming up next”; “in the next half hour”; or “we have just seen”…again, I don’t need to be told what’s coming with half the story thereby rendering the full story a little boring and predictable, and I usually manage to retain what I’ve watched 3 minutes earlier.

The BBC is, of course, the best, most trusted broadcaster in the world which is why every government wants to destroy it.

It is worth the money for Radio 4 alone. People complain about paying less than 50p per week yet are happy to pay £50 a week to Sky for cheap American rubbish and old BBC repeats. If the BBC was abolished there would be nothing for the other channels like Dave and Yesterday and the likes to show since the cough up repeats of old sitcoms, Coast and the like.

Have a look at Freeview, without the BBC there would be nothing to watch, all the other channels show trash and are a waste of the technology.

D. Jones says:
20 September 2010

The licence has given the BBC too much power. Why should 500 students in Halls of residence and sharing a kitchen be hounded to pay individual licence fees? Did you notice MP’s were claiming theirs back on second homes? what are our children setting up when they leave to go to University?
You can legaly watch a portable TV out of your home only if it’s not plugged into the mains, but if you watch it live on new hand held technology out and about thats OK! Another words if you can be nailed down they will criminalise you, if you can’t they have to give up. Get with it BBC you need to serve the customer not worry them to death.

Let’s be clear about this, shall we? The BBC does NOT run the licence fee collection service, nor does it have any say in defining the laws that relate to it or the amount it receives from the revenues collected. All of those things are the purview of the government. It all used to be handled by the Post Office before privatisiation, but the TV Licence set-up is, presumably, now another of those infamous QUANGOs….

So, if you have a gripe with the laws that relate to the need to licence students’ TVs in Halls of Residence (which legally are no different to any block of flats, so it makes sense to me that the licenicng rules should be the same for them anyway), you should write to your MP. Either way, stop blaming the BBC for things that it has no more control over than you or I do!

I’m in favour of keepint the TV licence fee. Not only does it pay for TV without ads and radio but also for the fantastic website that the BBC runs. I work in a school and the BBC website can always be relied upon to provide great educational content which is accurate and fun for children to use.

True the TV licence seems an outdated oddity, but do I want a complete monopoly by Sky? No I don’t! That would be the alternative! No thanks!

E Castle says:
28 September 2010

True, Jon, you don’t have to buy a license if you don’t watch live TV..but the bullying & intimidation you will get from TV Licensing if you don’t buy or renew one suggests they simply won’t accept that some people don’t watch TV. You can call them or log into their website to plead your case for exemption, but they state that even then you might get a visit from their investigators..’Trendy’ media types who hob nob & feed off (often literally) the institution that is the BBC often find it convenient to sneer at those who choose to opt out here.

William Cowper says:
23 May 2011

I am one of the very few who have never owned a “television receiver” and have therefore never needed a license. I am very shocked by the belligerence of the TV Licencing’s letters. What no-one can tell me is this – am I legally obliged to declare to them that I don’t have such equipment? They demand this all the time, but you’re not believed, because they say they might still come and visit you to check! What other quango has such powers?

As pointed out by Nigel I do wish that people would not comment on something that they don’t actually understand, thereby both making themselves look like twits and also clouding the waters.
The License fee is, as Nigel says, collected and administered by NTVLRO, now shortened to “TV Licensing” which is, as Nigel says, a QUANGO (if you don’t know what a QUANGO is get a text book on GCSE politics and look at Thatcher’s policies of the 1980’s – it’s on the basic GCSE curriculum so it should be understandable by a University student.
There is a reference much further up this board to not wishing to know about historical systems and only being interested in the fee as it is now: that’s a very short-sighted view and it’s similar to the mistake made over the administration of the fee; if you don’t understand the history you don’t stand a snowball’s chance in **** of understanding the present. To clarify see my contribution about 3 weeks ago on Mike’s anti-license fee board: the license is fo rthe RECEIVER (i.e. the equipment) and it is a license to OPERATE the receiver, not a license to pay the BBC per se. The reason that it goes to the BBC is because there were no other broadcasters when it as introduced, indeed TV had not even been invented and it was a WIRELESS receiver license.
Whether or not historically a mistake was made in not updating the system when the IBA was born is a whole other issue but we have what we have because it was not changed at that point.

Chrimbo says:
20 May 2012

Your comment might be valid, if you managed to spell ‘licence’ correctly…

Hello Chrimbo, the content of Dave’s comment is what matters and not the spelling. We take spelling and grammar very seriously for our own articles, but commenters are not required to heavily proof-read their comments as that would slow down the debate. Thanks.

Jennifer Goodings says:
3 December 2010

I can only assume that those who have posted comments to keep the licence fee can comfortably afford to do so. A lot of us out there are not on high salaries and really struggle to pay for it and worry constantly with the threatening letters and prospect of prison etc. As a single working parent the cost of a licence represents 70% of my take home pay per week and I have to go without eating and heating to pay for it. I really resent paying for this unjust tax in an age of choice which is what we should have – this is a democracy after all. I never watch the BBC as I find the content boring so I say let the 58 % who voted to keep it pay for it and let the other 42 % who want choice have that choice

Chrimbo says:
2 October 2011

The only question to ask yourself is “are you happy to pay people like Mr Paxman £1.5m a year”

I all for continuing the funding of the BBC.
However it would be far more cost -effective to simply fund it direct from taxation.
Almost everyone has a TV, so why all waste money with all the administration, bureaucracy and enforcement costs associated with the TV licensing organisation and remember the costs to retailers of having to do monthly returns of all TV sales ?

With the rise of Internet TV viewing, its becoming even more difficult to enforce anyway.

The Government already sets how much the BBC gets paid through the license fee anway so no change there required.

giles says:
24 May 2012

The BBC has gone beyond simply providing an important non-commercial service. They need cutting back. 39p a day is too much. If I live to be the age of my grandparents, at current prices I would have paid over £12000 for TV and radio channels I rarely used.

The license prevents me from watching free commercial channels which impacts my freedom and human right to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media”.

I was bullied and treated like a criminal by TV Licensing and was unable to get a refund when I sold my TV despite following the proper proceedure. It makes no difference to me that the BBC and TV Licensing are separate.

Remian Priyvate says:
29 June 2012

If anyone objects to the idea of BBC funding from General Taxation (Have no TV, why should I pay tax to support the BBC), just remember Schools are paid from public taxes and many people without children still have to pay. If Education is for the “public good” and can be paid from general tax, then so is the BBC (at least the “informative” and “educational” output from it). If they also produce entertainment somehow NOT for the Public Good, then maybe that should be optional and paid by subscription.

Seriously, if it was JUST about money they would have gone over to general taxation ages ago. Remember not too many years back the TV Licence Database was going to be used to seed the National ID Card Database? Officially cancelled, but … do you REALLY trust the Database State?