Helen Martin: Time to pull plug on the TV licence

Technological advances have left the TV licence vulnerable. Picture: Jane Barlow
Technological advances have left the TV licence vulnerable. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT is one of the most anachronistic and ludicrous charges ever levied on the British public, but the BBC licence fee is now, deservedly, in deep trouble.

It has survived for almost 100 years thanks to the BBC and the government moving the goalposts whenever this quaint old tax looked likely to slip from their fingers. But today’s younger generation (that is, anyone up to their mid or late twenties) is almost certain to see it off for good.

Like most of his mates, the Young Master doesn’t watch television, and certainly not live television. He watches internet downloads. In his world, not only has technology done its bit to make a TV about as much use to him as a typewriter, but the excessive working hours young people today have to put in to survive mean that even the few programmes he might have any interest in seeing are never screened when he can watch them.

At least two million British homes have officially registered as non licence payers on the basis that they don’t have a TV, don’t watch live programmes and use various perfectly legal methods to view programmes on their PC, lap top or tablet. There must surely be at least another million who haven’t declared. This leaves the BBC in a bit of a pickle, not least since it was it that invented the iPlayer so that viewers could catch up on missed programmes. Since that’s not “live” broadcasting, it doesn’t require a licence . . . yet. Director general Tony Hall now wants to shift the posts again, a last money-grubbing attempt I sincerely hope will be thwarted.

If young people think the licence fee is daft now, they don’t know the half of it. The licence was introduced in the 1920s, before television existed. It was then applied to owning a broadcasting receiver, otherwise known as a radio. The idea was that the licence would fund the making of radio programmes, otherwise there would be no point in having a wireless at all.

In the fullness of time when folk got car radios in the UK, they needed another licence. And do you know when the requirement for a radio licence was finally phased out? The 1970s . . . I kid you not.

America didn’t have any of this nonsense, having wisely started out on the basis that programme makers should charge advertisers rather than Joe Public. But for us, the demands went on. When TV arrived it was more expensive than a radio licence. A colour TV licence was dearer than black and white. TV detector vans went hunting for signals around suburban streets. But then it was assumed that everyone had a TV set so detection was unnecessary. Now every household has to register and prove that they don’t have one, otherwise they will be assumed guilty and pursued. We are paying a helluva lot (£145.50 a year) just to avoid advertising breaks in EastEnders.

Progress and technology have cost the jobs and incomes of typists, secretaries, postmen, print-workers, those in the record industry, bank tellers, shop owners and shop assistants, to name but a few. Why are we all still paying to protect the BBC from the march of time?

It’s horse sense to us

SUSSEX University has announced ground-breaking research revealing horses talk with their ears. Pinned back equals angry, floppy equals relaxed, pricked up means interested and indicates direction. Which is all such common knowledge that even five-year-olds in the Pony Club must be laughing their wee jodhpurs off.

Pair showed lack of certainty

THE independence debate is becoming narrower, more hostile and turgid as it focuses on questions which cannot be answered until and if there’s a Yes vote and real negotiation takes place. Until then it’s just claim and counter-claim. It’s merely a bet on who you believe most.

With hindsight, the most enlightening and civilised TV debate took place some time ago between George Galloway and Jim Sillars. The least enlightening was the Salmond-Darling clash, two guys scrapping over what might happen, maybe. They have no more certainty about the issues than the rest of us. But at least each of them is in no doubt about how to vote.

The rest of us will just have to follow our hearts and hope for the best.

You won’t fall fowl with rules

DEEP concern is being expressed by the Food Standards Agency and others that chicken in British supermarkets is laden with campylobacter. It’s a natural bacteria present in the intestinal tracts of birds but is a major cause of food poisoning in the UK.

That could be because we are eating too much of it and employing unnatural and cruel intensive farming methods to meet demand - chicken used to be an expensive luxury.

And it’s certainly because people don’t know how to handle it properly.

Campylobacter is killed off by proper cooking. Keep raw chicken wrapped and on a deep, wide plate on the bottom of the fridge so it can’t contaminate anything else. Never wash the bird, wash hands and utensils. Cook it until all pink is gone. In this case the only one to blame is the consumer. Anyone incapable of following these rules should stick to chicken nuggets.