Proposal to decriminalise TV licence fee avoidance

The BBC is often accused of a liberal bias most recently by the Today programme’s own John Humphrys. Currently the BBC is paid for by the television licence fee, non payment of which can result in a fine of £1000. Up to 10% of magistrates court appearances are for non payment and if this is not paid it can even result in gaol (107 people were sent to gaol between 2011 and 2013). A cross party group of MPs has suggested changing the nature of the offence to a civil rather than a criminal issue (like car parking fines). Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who is spearheading Commons efforts to change the law, said for some cash-strapped families the current law was “criminalising them for being poor”.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) the BBC, has opposed the idea. It claims that such a change could cost it £200 million. James Purnell the former Labour culture minister and now BBC director of strategy and digital claimed

“it would be a huge risk to do it now” and claimed that downgrading licence fee evasion to a civil offence would penalise the poor.
“Either you have a low penalty – in which case the evasion rates would go up and everyone would have to pay a higher licence fee – or a penalty which is higher and more difficult to pay.”

The idea that decriminalisation of non payment of the licence fee would hit the poor is truly surreal. So possibly the BBC is not so liberal after all?