Belfast Telegraph

Public count cost of TV licence dodgers

Editor's Viewpoint

It is hard to believe that people failing to pay their TV licences accounted for a quarter of all criminal prosecutions in Northern Ireland last year.

Statistics obtained by this newspaper reveal that this involved more than 10,000 cases, which represents on average about 30 a day.

It is little wonder that the DUP MP Sammy Wilson described the figures as “extraordinary”. In doing so, he has voiced the sentiments of the vast majority of people who stay within the law and pay for their licence.

In effect, the public is being charged twice for the collection and administration of the licence fee.

Most people pay their own fees up front, and then a huge sum of public money is spent in bringing the licence-dodgers to court.

This bears no comparison to the work of other public institutions and utilities which have to  find money to fund their own legal actions.

The BBC has certain achievements worthy of commendation. Despite the number of repeats it broadcasts, the Corporation has a considerable output over a wide range of platforms and subjects.

Some of its programmes are excellent, but nevertheless, many people believe that the BBC is feather-bedded, receiving £145 per licence while other media outlets and paid-for Press publications need to provide their own funding.

Many people object to the compulsory payment of a licence fee, and regard it as an oppressive tax in an era when the BBC often relies for its breaking news and current affairs agenda on other  sources, including the Press.

People are also surprised by the BBC’s relatively small percentage of total broadcast output, and they will  question further the amount of public money being spent on protecting the Corporation’s interests.

Given the backlog in Northern Ireland’s courts of  all cases of varying seriousness, including murder and other kinds of violence, many people will ask if this protection of the BBC’s licence income represents money well spent. Of course those who break the law by not paying their licence fees should be penalised, but there must be a more efficient way of handling this than dragging viewers through the courts.

The BBC must continue to justify and capitalise upon its licence fee, but not at the cost of making the public pay for it twice over.

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