Bill Carmichael: BBC’s licence for unfairness

A DRACONIAN law in the UK sees more than 3,000 people a week facing prosecution before the courts where they face fines of up to £1,000 and a jail sentence if they won’t – or can’t – pay.

Two thirds of the defendants are women and the burden of this legislation falls overwhelmingly on the poor.

In normal circumstances, you would expect the usual parade of equality and poverty campaigners to be screaming from the rooftops about the unfairness of it all – but there hasn’t been a peep from the Left-liberal establishment.

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Perhaps that’s because the beneficiaries of this law are their cultural comrades in the BBC, which pockets a tidy £3.4bn a year from the licence fee and is happy to see the courts come down like a ton of bricks on any unfortunates unable or unwilling to pay.

The latest figures show that prosecutions for failing to buy a £145.50 TV licence fee have rocketed by 20 per cent in four years to reach 165,000 a year – 10 per cent of all cases before magistrates’ courts. At least 74 people over the last five years have been jailed for refusing to pay.

For 20 years, the Magistrates’ Association has recommended that licence fee evasion be decriminalised, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. As a result, drug users, shoplifters and vandals can expect to be let off with a warning or an £80 spot fine, but those without a TV licence are dragged before the courts and can end up with a criminal record.

I point this out not to defend lawbreakers but to demonstrate that the current method of funding the BBC is increasingly untenable.

The licence fee is effectively a tax on owning a television set. As no less a figure than Jeremy Paxman commented, this is a bit like slapping a tax on washing machines to fund the manufacture of Persil.

This has been an embarrassing anachronism for many years, but in today’s interconnected, digital world it is simply unworkable. It has always been the case that those who preferred ITV or Sky were still forced to fund the BBC – even though they didn’t watch it. But today even those viewers who enjoy the BBC don’t need a television to watch it. If you watch the BBC from your computer or smart phone, provided you don’t watch “live” television, you don’t need a licence.

So if you watch EastEnders on your computer at the same time as it is broadcast on TV, it will cost you £145.50 a year. But watch it on iPlayer at any other time at your convenience and it will cost you nothing. I wonder which option the public will choose. The future is clear; the television as we know it, along with the licence fee and traditional broadcast schedules, is doomed. People will choose programmes from a menu on internet connected screens and watch them when and where they like.

And the good news is that when the BBC is forced to move on to a more sustainable subscription model of funding, people will only pay for the programmes they want to watch.

Hair rescue

Good news for slap heads! Scientists have discovered a biological clue to male baldness that may lead to a treatment to halt or even reverse hair loss.

Researchers in the US have identified a key protein known as prostaglandin D synthase that is thought to trigger male pattern baldness.

If they can figure out a way of blocking the protein, it would open up the way for a cream or lotion that prevent baldness and allow hair to grow back again.

So if you are a senior citizen and you’ve been tearing your hair out this week after hearing of Chancellor George Osborne’s tax raid on pensioners, help may soon be at hand.