The tv licence



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The TV licence has been in existence since 1949. It was originally introduced as the best way of funding the BBC which was, at that time, the only organisation broadcasting in Britain. Because the technology which would allow BBC to encrypt its signals and thus prevent any unauthorised person from accessing its services did not exist at that time, anyone who owned a TV set could gain access, thus a system of compulsory licensing was introduced. The 1949 wireless telegraphy act was passed making it illegal for anyone to operate a TV set without a licence.


As long as BBC was the only broadcaster in Britain there was no problem. Anyone wishing to use BBC’s services had to pay for them. Because no other organisations were broadcasting TV programmes in Britain, no one else was affected or interfered with. However, since the 1949 act was passed, two things have happened to change the situation.


Firstly, in March 1972, the then prime minister, EDWARD HEATH, signed the treaty of Rome, thus enabling Britain to become a member of the EEC, (now the European Union). Among the provisions laid down under this treaty were the rules covering competition which dictate that no company, organisation or authority can be allowed to control any aspect of competition, nor are they allowed to employ any policies or practices which restrict the public’s access to the competition.


Secondly, the technology which would allow BBC to encrypt its signals now exists. BBC can therefore ensure that only people who pay a fee can access its services.


With the advent of this technology an ever increasing number of TV and radio services have been introduced in to Britain from all over the world, however, because the 1949 act is still on the statute books, their customers cannot gain access to services provided by these other companies without paying a licence fee to the BBC even if they have no intention of using its services.


It is obvious therefore that an element of unfairness whereby the BBC is able to restrict access to all TV services and not just its own exists. It therefore follows that European rules covering competition, as laid down under articles 81 and 82 of the treaties are being deliberately and continually violated.


Although the conditions under which the BBC are operating have changed greatly since the early days, the fact that it derives part of its income from compulsory licensing has not. Despite the fact that much of its revenue now comes from alternative sources,

·        Sales of programmes to other broadcasters around the world,

·        Sales of merchandise to the public through BBC worldwide etc.,

the TV licence has still not been abolished. Given that there are now many alternatives, and that its compulsory nature renders it illegal under EU law, it will be obvious that it is now time for the TV licence to be abolished.


The arguments put forward by the BBC for the continued existence of the TV licence no longer hold water.


Firstly they say that it is a major source of income and that the services offered by them would suffer if it were no longer available. As has already been mentioned, much of the BBC’s income now comes from other sources.


Secondly, to the suggestion that the BBC should look to advertising as an alternative, they say that advertising on the BBC would change the nature and interfere with the quality of the service it provides. This does not seem to have happened in the case of other broadcasters such as ITV, channel 4 or channel 5, so there is no reason to believe that it would happen if BBC were to introduce advertising on to its channels. It could be pointed out that BBC does already derive some income from advertising through its involvement with other organisations, for example, it is a part owner of the UK TV organisation which is a commercial broadcasting organisation which generates an income through advertising.



Reasons why the TV licence should be abolished;


1. it is no longer necessary to fund BBC using this method due to the fact that other sources of raising revenue are now available.


2. it is illegal under EU law;


Because it is illegal to use a TV set without buying a licence, anyone wishing to use a set but not access services offered by BBC are prevented from accessing services offered by other broadcasting organisations. This is a clear breach of EU rules covering competition as laid down under article 81 section 1 and article 82 of the European treaties. These articles clearly state that it is illegal for any organisation or group of organisations to adopt any policies or practices which distort the common market;


[A] by directly or indirectly fixing purchasing or selling prices or any other trading conditions.


[B] which limit or control production, markets, technical development or investment.


[C] Which share markets or sources of supply.


[D] Which apply dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage.


3. It is discriminatory;


although TV is available to all who own a receiver, the fact that it is illegal to use a TV set without a licence prevents those at the poorest end of society from legally accessing services offered by the various broadcasting organisations. They are therefore unable to take advantage of the educational, informative and entertainment services available via the TV set, and are therefore in no position to improve their circumstances. The licence fee is also discriminatory in that those least able to pay are the very people who are most likely to be punished either by heavy fine or imprisonment for using a TV without buying a licence.

If a person is unable to pay for a TV licence, how can he be expected to pay a fine?

At the same time, a prison sentence cannot be justified as it is disproportionate to the supposed crime.

At the time this report is being prepared, a TV licence costs 108£ a year, but it costs 3000£ a week to keep a person in prison. Add to that the cost of keeping a family on benefits, should the person in prison be the bread winner, and it will be obvious that, even if the legislation forcing people to buy a TV licence was NOT illegal under EU law, it cannot be justified on grounds of economy.




1. It is time for the TV licence to be abolished:


Because EU law takes precedence over state law, the 1949 wireless telegraphy act, the broadcasting act 1990 and any other legislation which forces someone to buy a licence have become obsolete and therefore unenforceable.


2. It cannot be justified as a necessary source of revenue for the BBC as there are many alternatives which the BBC choose NOT to adopt.


3. It is discriminatory because only those who cannot pay are being punished.




1. The BBC should adopt alternative methods of raising revenue which do NOT include compulsory and therefore illegal payments, i.e. advertising or providing their services on a subscription basis.


2. The TV licence should be abolished as soon as is practical.



The End