Tuesday, 19 August 2008

On Getting the Criminal Law Out of TV Licences

It is a criminal offence for you to use a television, unless you have a licence.

This stark proposition has always made me deeply unhappy.

I agree that there should be public service television and radio broadcasting funded on a non-commercial basis. (However, I cannot see why such funding should only go to the BBC, but that is another argument.)

I can also somehow see the point of the funding coming from a charge payable by those who use televisions. (There are better ways.)

What really bothers me is the sanction for the non-payment of the charge.

You are given a criminal record because, simply, you used a television - still the primary source of information for most citizens.

(The misuse of the criminal law by the "State" and vested interests will be a recurring topic for this Blog.)

Moreover, you receive this criminal record for the sake of public service broadcasting, supposedly a public good in our civilized society.

If that is the price of public service broadcasting, then it is not worth it.

There is no reason why such a charge could not be enforceable as a civil debt, not as a tax with the threat of the criminal law behind it.

So I hope the internet renders the TV licence regime redundant. There may soon be no need for a separate televsison in the house.

And if this happens, the only real trace of this quite dreadful legal regime will be YouTube carrying some old videos of the nasty authoritarian TV licensing adverts.

And we will wonder why we ever put up with it.

1 comment:

tolman said...

If funding mechanisms do change due to changes in technology, people may well eventually wonder why things ever used to be done differently, but the answer might just be "There wasn't any other obvious way at the time".

That said, it does seem anomalous for licence avoidance to be a criminal offence, but for even significant copyright infringement to be a civil issue, especially when the latter can involve someone assisting numerous *other* people to freeload, whereas licence-dodging is something with few, if any, effects cascading onto other people.h