You hear those three letters—BBC—and think nothing but good associations. Fine documentaries. Brilliant historical dramas. Edgy comedy. All-round bastion of culture.
As an Australian I was brought up on the BBC, as BBC programs stand in for about half of all content on the Australian national broadcaster (the ABC).
Alas, the BBC is a bloody tyrant. I discovered this by moving to the UK and thus within the BBC’s all-powerful dominion. It starts with the obvious fact that a national broadcaster gets the majority of its funding through tax-payer dollars. In Australia this was through general tax revenues, but in the UK it is through a special levy known as a TV licence.
I only found out such a thing exists when, yesterday, an English gentleman knocked on my door and promptly informed me that I had failed to renew my tv licence and such failure, if not remedied, could result in considerable fines and possible court action.
A strange conversation ensued in which the gentleman kept making statements about my need for a tv licence, while I made statements about not knowing what this Orwellian-sounding article of bureaucracy could possibly be, not to mention the fact I do not, have not, and will not ever be watching British television.
Though I appreciated The Bill, various Attenborough documentaries, and classic fare like Fawlty Towers when growing up, these days the general bulk of what passes for British television is decidedly not to my taste. No doubt some gems exist, but I know myself—I’d end up watching the dross, too, and my life would be inestimably worse for it. No, there shall be no British tv in my British household. If I want to watch a specific program (like Broadchurch or The Fall) I will wait till it is available for download.
This should have been the end of the matter, for, as I later found out, if you don’t watch tv, you don’t need a licence to watch tv (and, it repeats being said, the simple fact a “licence” is required to watch tv is the sort of thing I’d expect to find in a Bradbury or Huxley or Orwell novel, and which has now gone into my notebook for inclusion in my own dystopian novella; what next, a licence for pavement utilisation, or a half-licence if you promise to only walk on the cracks?).
But the chap very nearly pushed his way into my home. He insisted on examining my tv so that he could confirm it wasn’t in use, not receiving a tv signal. Anything less might result in a fine for improper usage without a licence. Of course, I wasn’t worried. I had ripped the bloody antenna out the moment I moved in, and thrown about twenty cables into a dark cupboard.
“I don’t use the tv,” I explained.
“Which is exactly why I must enter and examine it,” the BBC man countered.
“What for? I told you I don’t use the tv, so surely I don’t need a licence.”
“That’s right, so I just need to get inside and take a look around to ensure you don’t need a licence.”
“No, I don’t need a licence. I don’t watch tv. If I don’t watch tv then why would I need a licence to watch tv?”
“Well I’ll just take a quick look then.”
“But I told you, I don’t watch tv.”
“But you have a tv?”
“Yes, but I don’t watch tv on it, just stuff from my computer.”
“I’ll need to check that then, so, if you don’t mind.”
It occurs to me that this is less Orwell, more Kafka—a man accused of a crime, the details of which he is never fully aware. If I was to believe this BBC man, I needed a tv licence of which I knew nothing to watch tv which I don’t watch.
BBC, I’m sorry, but you lost me at licence.