Dear Sir,

I have submitted my response to the Government’s Consultation on decriminalising the BBC Licence Fee. The consultation period ends at 5PM on 1st April. I thought you could be interested in my views, and to put them in Independence Daily if you so wish.

I am over 16 and have read through the whole of the consultation document and my response to the five questions posed is as below.

Question 1: Should TV licence evasion (the use or installation of a television receiver without a TV licence) no longer be a criminal offence? Why do you consider that TV licence evasion should no longer be a criminal offence?

TV Licence evasion should continue to be a criminal offence. For my reasons see answer to Q2.

Question 2: If, alternatively, you consider that TV licence evasion should remain a criminal offence, why is this the case?

TV licence evasion should continue to be a criminal offence because to fiddle around changing the nature of the offence now when there are far more substantial issues concerning the future of the BBC that should be addressed first. To focus on the nature of the offence is akin to fiddling while Rome burns. For further analysis see answer to Question 5.

Question 3: If you have a view, what alternative enforcement scheme models do you consider to be most appropriate? Why?

Not applicable in light of my answers to Questions 1 and 2, see answer to Question 5.

Question 4: What steps could the Government take to mitigate any impacts that may result from decriminalisation of TV licence evasion?

Not applicable in light of my answers to Questions 1 and 2, see answer to Question 5.

Question 5: Please provide any evidence you consider appropriate in answering these questions and any other information that you believe the Government should consider, especially where there is an impact on those with protected characteristics or the most vulnerable. 

In this rapidly changing world of television and radio broadcasting from ground based and satellite transmitters, and multicasting via the internet, the context in which the BBC operates is already substantially different from that at the time of the last Charter review. The Communications Act of 2003 was passed when to inform, educate and entertain as practiced then now seems a world away: the many programme repeats giving an insight into as it was then, and to an earlier age.

In that context, to consider whether failure to pay the Licence Fee should be a criminal offence or a civil offence is to fiddle with trivia. I accept not trivial for those that this Consultation rightly highlights as “where there is an impact on those with protected characteristics or the most vulnerable”, but I would argue their interests can be better served by other means, as I will argue below.

Firstly, we should ask if the nation should have a Public Service Broadcaster. I take it as read that the answer is YES, and the BBC is to fulfil that role.

Secondly, we should ask what is the scope of that role. This is difficult to answer meaningfully because the simple answer is “what ever you want it to be”. But if the BBC is to be funded by some means or other by the state, i.e. it is not a commercial business required to fund its own activities, answer there must be. In simple terms the more it is required to do the more it costs to run.

Once upon a time there was only the BBC, which had to be all things to all men. Now it is but one of many. I was impressed by David Attenborough when he said that there should be no area into which the BBC should not go, but that the amount of coverage of any one area should be limited: breadth in preference to depth.

Looking at current BBC output I would say there is too much depth and not enough breadth. In areas where there is good coverage I cannot see the need for the BBC to have more than one programme. This contrasts with other areas that the BBC have never addressed.

The BBC World Service is a special case that should continue.

Once upon a time BBC Engineering led the World, such as FM stereo, and I think it is a shame such initiatives have been abandoned.

Standards have slipped since the days of Lord Reith. The BBC should be about quality, not quantity. Aim to be the best of all broadcasters.

And BBC scope should be as a broadcaster, NOT a streaming service via the Internet. The BBC does need to have a web site and on-line presence, but that should be to supplement the broadcasts not to extend the scope. NOTE that while broadcasts can be received throughout the whole of the UK, internet connections of comparable quality do not have close to the same coverage, and for the more remote areas unlikely to for the foreseeable future. There are those, such as some of the elderly, who can turn on a radio or TV but do not have a computer and would not know how to use it if they did; they should not be excluded from, for instance, BBC3.

Thirdly there must be a means of funding the BBC to cover the scope required of it. The members of the Public are going to pay for this one way or another. A balance needs to be struck between what could be required of an extensive BBC and what we, the Public, think is a reasonable cost.

Given that there are now so many broadcast and internet options it seems to me the BBC is unnecessarily large. If the cost was seen to be reasonable by the Public and it was paid by the tax payer via the Government to the BBC, i.e. out of taxation, then there would be no licence fee and everyone would be happy. There would be no special hardship cases to considered. Administrative cost running and enforcing the Licence Fee system would not arise. The courts would have no involvement. And what ever the cost it has to be better value for money.

I appreciate that such a major change would require major consultation and could not happen quickly. I note the legislative timescales described, but new legislation can be introduced to replace existing.

Certainly, to make a minor change to the current Licence Fee system seems to me a waste of time, effort and money when far more substantial changes can be made to a much greater benefit for all of us.

The BBC were World pioneers and are part of our British heritage. But standards are falling, not helped by Government strong arming the BBC to take over the responsibility for the licence for the over-75s.

So, stop wasting time and effort on a minor issue that should be dealt with as part of a wide ranging re-casting of the BBC as our National broadcaster funded out of general taxation. And in so doing cut out unnecessary costs, eliminate any reason to be concerned for “those with protected characteristics or the most vulnerable”, emphasise quality over quantity and encourage and allow the BBC to be great again.

Respectfully, Alan Wheatley

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