On December 31st 2006, a few months from now the Royal Charter on which the BBC is based will expire. This is important information for campaigners against the TV license fee who can be realistically expected to step up their campaign for its abolition.
According to some estimates TV license fee produces more than two billion pounds in revenue annually and this helps to pay for the BBC's functioning. Does this promote freedom of information? Some would argue, yes, because it helps the BBC to render a service of providing wide coverage of important news and happenings in the UK and overseas.
According to Zaved Mahmood, human rights lawyer and PhD student at the University of Nottingham whose thesis title is 'The Right to Information in Developing Countries' such a fee even in his own country would be regarded as a violation of the freedom of information enshrined in the Bangladeshi constitution. This is an irony, he points out, because it was only a few years ago in 2000 that the Freedom of Information Act, (a specific piece of legislation ostensibly aimed at granting easier access by people to information of all kinds) was passed in the UK. This Act is currently being enforced and local government is in a tizzy to make sure they hand out requests made for information well before the deadline prescribed under the law.
It would not do to argue perhaps that there is more protection of human rights in Bangladesh or India than in the UK, but certainly the UK TV license fee is exceptional even in a European or global context. Why should people have to pay a license fee to hear news on the television or radio? Can we not expect that the Government should subsidize the corporation in such a way that its independence is preserved?
According to Judith Schmidt a Swiss national working with the International Red Cross Committee the tax is ridiculously high. Schmidt lives in an up market area in Central London near Tower Hill made evident by the presence of a reception outside the estate and the fact that you have to open five doors before you can get to her flat. She pays two thousand pounds a month as rent and lives alone. Soon after she moved into the flat some six months ago she was telephoned by the Broadcasting people who informed her that the previous occupants of the flat were paying TV license fee. 'I told them I will not be watching any television,' she said, ' and I believe they must be monitoring radio waves coming out of my flat in some fashion. This tax is completely unacceptable!' It appears unlikely, as Schmidt claims, that the monitoring of radio waves constitutes a legal invasion of privacy. Such constitutional issues apart, it is interestingly that even for someone is Schmidt's high income bracket it is the money that stops her from watching TV. 'Certainly, it is the money,' she says indignantly. 'It is way, way too high.'
This raises an interesting question. If license fee is too high for Schmidt what about others who are not as fortunately placed financially? Surely, at the very least the Government could grant an exemption to individuals who fall below a certain salary bracket. (Take the case of a struggling journalism student, who needs to watch television in order to do well in his course.)
As the time draws nearer one wonders whether the press will join in to support the campaign to abolish TV license. It could be argued after all, that if TV license is abolished this might increase television viewership and contribute to lower circulation rates not only of the national newspapers but also the tabloids. Their proprietors are therefore unlikely to be supportive of the campaign.