To Watch or Not to Watch

Published

Credit: Ka Leung

Jamie Salem-Dalgety
Writer

Jamie Salem-Dalgety analyses why the cost of TV licensing dissuades students from watching live TV

BBC News at 10, the FIFA World Cup, Doctor Who season 11 (the one that’s left a hole in the ceiling), and live “un-Twitter-spoiled” episodes of The Great British Bake Off. What do these four things have in common? They all require you to spend £150.50 a year in order to “legally” watch them.

People often confuse what a TV license actually covers. A common misconception is that you require one for owning a television… which isn’t the case. You are “legally required” to have a TV license in order to watch any live television broadcast (including online sites, such as NOW TV), or to watch any BBC iPlayer content. This doesn’t just limit itself to TVs either; it includes any screen, from your laptop to your smartphone.

To fully-fledged adults on a regular income, £150 may not seem like a lot of money. Just the price they pay to have a publicly-funded, independent broadcaster. But to us students, it is a significant chunk of cash. I think we should instead – as students – be granted TV licenses for free.

With most students often living on the edge financially, it can be quite a daunting ask for us to fork out an additional sum of money just to watch live television. So, naturally, the vast majority of students won’t pay. We will often instead either choose not to watch TV-licensed programming, or we will decide to risk watching it illegally.

If we choose not to watch it, then we don’t just lose the chance to watch new and exciting TV dramas, we also miss out on a major opportunity to gain in-depth, and mostly unbiased, information on current affairs.

Watching BBC News, for instance, is much less intense than reading a news article. Reading an article is an active decision to dedicate time to staying informed on recent events. It takes effort and concentration – the last thing you want to give after an entire day of required reading and lectures. Watching the news, however, can be done when you are sitting back at home, eating dinner, or just relaxing from a hard day of study.

Not only that, it is also a great opportunity to survey discussions regarding major issues from opposing positions. Much of the BBC’s programming represents a diverse range of differing viewpoints; as shown by Question Time, which invites five guests from various political backgrounds to calmly, most of the time, debate on a myriad of important topics.

By not owning a TV license, we miss out on this invaluable content. We students are the people who should stay the most informed on a wide range of opinions; something which is easily accessible to us through public television. If you are determined to watch live TV without paying the license fee you could just watch it illegally, but this doesn’t come without its risks.

While I’d say a large percentage of students watch at least some illegal online content, the difference between license evasion and bootlegging is that there are some genuine measures in place for the licensing agency to investigate evaders. The TV Licensing company have spent £61m in the last year on collection services, and through this, 240,000 people were caught watching TV without a license – likely resulting in a fine of £1,000. As students, we struggle to pay for the TV license, let alone the alarming fine.

There is, however, as I’m sure many of you are aware, a “loophole” in the system for students. If your out-of-term address, such as your parents’ address, is covered by a TV license, and you only use TV receiving equipment that is powered solely by its own internal batteries, and you have not connected it to an aerial or plugged it into the mains – then, and only then, are you not required to have a TV license.

Which begs the question, if the TV Licensing company is going to give students a deliberate loophole to allow them to watch live TV without their own license, albeit in awkwardly specific but perfectly manageable conditions, then they may as well just give students free TV licenses. Doing so would not only eliminate a large amount of their workload in terms of collection fees but would also help encourage more students to watch live TV, with a higher potential for them to continue this habit into adulthood.

As I have already said, it is unreasonable for the TV Licensing company to expect the same from students as they do from working families. Seeing as most students don’t pay for TV licenses anyway, it would be far more beneficial for there to be some form of governmental provision. By pushing this fee on us, they are doing more harm than good.