TV licences in the 21st century

After having a brief debate about the future of the TV licence on Twitter with @robhague and @fredtilley, here are some thoughts about it. For those who don’t know (the non-Brits, mainly): In the UK, watching live television (in colour) carries with it a licence fee of £145.50. This basically means that if you own a television you pay the fee (unless you can prove you’re not using it to watch live broadcasts) and technically speaking, if you watch iPlayer live, you are also required to have a licence.

In the future, obviously, the number of people watching live TV is probably going to decline. I don’t know the timescale on which this will occur, but at some stage the idea of live broadcasts is going to wither and die in the face of the realities of the Internet. As a result, Fred tweeted:

Why should people pay for a monitor fee to support a national broadcasting company? Well, the fact of the matter is that the BBC does a lot more than TV and radio now. iPlayer is an obvious one, but their news organisation is one of the best in the world and puts a lot of news online for free. Podcasts with much free content are available for download and the Beeb also puts a lot of effort into expanding infrastructure. Those who don’t use the BBC’s website or other online services might say that they shouldn’t pay, but this is the same argument as people who only watch Sky use against the TV fee, and it hasn’t worked yet.

This point leads me neatly onto privatisation of the BBC as a second option.1 I don’t support privatisation of the Beeb, because I think it would be a huge blow to the quality of news and programming in the UK. However, if the licence fee stops delivering enough revenue to the BBC at the same time as a Conservative government is in power, I can see the need to reform the licence fee being used as a platform to scrap it entirely. I would like to hope that a Labour government would not do this, and that they’d update the fee instead.

However, if a monitor fee that has to be paid on iPads and laptops is brought in, there are obvious problems with making people pay up — the television is a mostly static thing, and easy to locate and charge for (I suspect the exemption of the handheld is partly based on the difficulty of proving someone owns one). The solution to the difficulty of locating televisions and making people pay up is familiar to any resident of the UK: The lovely experience of the TV Licensing company writing to them, ad nauseam, threatening court action if they don’t submit (regardless of whether or not you actually need to!). This problem of finding televisions is one that would be far worse if a monitor licence was introduced, and the current solution is a massive waste of paper and revenue.

So, perhaps, a third option is more sensible. Simply add a percentage to every tablet, laptop and monitor sold (call it the Display Surcharge, or something) which is paid on top of VAT at the point of sale. The money from those fees goes to fund national and public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom, nobody has to be badgered to pay for their television licence, and everyone wins! (Except those made redundant from their jobs as a result of the TV Licensing company going under, I suppose.)

  1. The debate over whether or not the licence fee should exist is an old and tired one that has been had many times; I am reluctant to spend too much time discussing its merits here. I’m focusing on reform, rather than removal. 

Homoeopathic national identity from @sweden

I’m sure I’m not the only person following @sweden on Twitter — in fact, I know I’m not, since that account has 67,580 followers at the time of writing. For those who don’t follow, the premise is simple; every Monday, a different Swede is given the chance to broadcast on behalf of their country for a week. I have followed a broad range of interesting people by following @sweden, but this week I have the pleasure of following a Swede who usually tweets as @naseeral. His name is Naseer Alkhouri, a thirty-one-year-old games developer living in Stockholm, and he was born in Iraq before going to Sweden when he was young.

A photograph of the Swedish flag flying against a blue sky.

Initially, I was somewhat sceptical about following Naseer, because his Twitter biography mentions that he is a ‘homeopathic Swede’ [sic] which started alarm-bells jangling in my head.1 When someone I don’t want to follow begins to use this type of account, I usually use TweetBot to mute them for a week2. Having said that, I always give a new user the benefit of the doubt and so I hadn’t yet muted @sweden despite those alarm bells.

I’m glad I didn’t, due to the exchange that occurred between me and @sweden earlier today:

Homeopathic Patriotism?

This week, @sweden has been operated by a user called @naseeral who describes himself as a ‘homeopathic Iraqi’ and ‘homeopathic Swede’. He uses the word outside its ‘medical’ meaning, to convey a different concept.

Storified by John Coxon · Mon, Aug 20 2012 04:16:21

Gonna adress that homeopathic swede part now. I was born in Iraq, been a Swede for a majority of my life, but for some that is not enough.@sweden / Naseer
In #myownview there is an extremist wind blowing over Europe, and Sweden is sadly not spared. A minority of people would like to divide us@sweden / Naseer
into ”us” and ”them”. And I am kind of a hippy and feel that we all should get along. So my silent protest is being a homeopathic Swede.@sweden / Naseer
It does’t matter how much these forces try to alienate me, I’ll always be a Swede, as much as I’ll always be a homeopathic Iraqi.@sweden / Naseer
@sweden So do you use ‘homeopathic’ to say that although being Iraqi & Swedish seems to dilute your national ID, it actually strengthens it?John Coxon
@johncoxon better phrased than I could’ve put it. Yes, as an ”outsider” I appreciate Sweden on a little different level.@sweden / Naseer
@sweden That’s a really great sentiment, I like that a lot.John Coxon

This is such a beautiful concept that I really wanted to post this on my blog and bring it to the attention of the few readers I have. I’ve always been patriotic; I love the United Kingdom and I love being British. One of the best things about the Olympics which have just rushed past was the huge feeling of national pride across Britain — but it was the way that that national pride was married to a feeling of mutual respect for other countries that really, really made me happy.

I live in Leicester, a city in the Midlands of England that has a population which is around 30% Asian according to Wikipedia. I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea that you can’t be properly British if you’re an immigrant, or from a different culture, or whatever else people will try to use to exclude you. The idea of a homoeopathic national identity — a phenomenon which makes you stronger both at your root and in your new setting — really takes my breath away. I am very glad to @sweden and to @naseeral for introducing me to it.

  1. I suspect there are a large number of my readers for whom a similar effect occurs whenever they see someone using homoeopathy as anything other than a curse word. 
  2. I have done that, this week, with @PeopleOfUK — the author is using an irritating thought bubble ASCII graphic on every tweet which is doing my head in.