Last week, a TV licensing loophole was closed. Because of this, you now need to pay for a TV licence if you want to watch re-runs on BBC iPlayer – unlike before, when you could fill your boots with years-old shows for absolutely nothing.
According to the BBC, the majority of people truly affected by the change – i.e. those who only watch catch-up services and don't currently pay for TV licenses – are under the age of 35. So, essentially:students and other young people are going to have to start paying £145.50 a year if they want to watch Paul Hollywood make vicious remarks about flans on Bake Off repeats.
Alternatively, they could just stop watching the BBC in the hope there might be some other video content out there in the vast depths of the internet.
Or – or – there's a third option.
They could, like a growing (but still very small) number of Brits, just sort of not pay? The fringes of Facebook are home to all sorts of groups, one of which is TV Licence Resistance, an organisation set up in 2005 that now boasts over 11,000 avid Facebook fans. Posting daily and responding to messages almost instantaneously, the group is run with more cohesion and verve than my local Labour Party.
Members are particularly keen to spread awareness of the tricks you need to employ to successfully avoid the "harassment" of TV Licensing "thugs" coming to your house to check up on your box. Tips include: requesting a search warrant; installing a remotely-operated camera in your doorbell; and just telling them to bloody well get off your lawn. TV licence inspectors, perhaps unsurprisingly, have in turn reported death threats from aggrieved TV owners, with one claiming a dog had been deliberately let out to attack her.
Michael Shakespeare, a 49-year-old anti-TV licence activist, has been vocal on the subject of TV Licensing harassment for years. Over the phone, he claims that he is treated "like some kind of terrorist" for his efforts, and says being bothered by officials in your home is "a human rights issue" that mirrors the treatment of the oppressed in Russia. He's made sure none of his equipment at home can receive a live TV signal, and actually took the TV Licensing authority to court after, he alleged, they doctored video footage to show his TV receiving a live programme. In that court case, TV Licensing could not prove the validity of their video and were ordered to pay Shakespeare's defence costs.
When I ask how he survives without being able to watch Make Me an Egghead live on BBC Two – or, indeed, on catch-up – he says there's quite enough free content out there for everyone to survive without the BBC, thank you very much. In fact, he says, he watched some pretty good sumo wrestling online just the other day.
In the Facebook group, members say one reason they don't pay their fees is the quality of BBC content. "If you're not watching crap, you're watching either repeats, reality TV, trivia, or adverts. Five words to sum up my thoughts and feelings… BOG OFF BRUSSELS BROADCASTING CRAP!" says Chris Quirky, somewhat confusingly, as the BBC famously doesn't air any advertisements.
Rather poetically, Simon Turner says:
"ITV may be crap
But at least it's free crap
Unlike the crap on the rip off BBC"
But the movement's aims run deeper than merely complaining about TV shows they don't like very much. As well as opposing the content itself, members are at odds with what they see as inherent corruption and political bias within the BBC's ranks, with comments describing workers as "overpaid champagne socialists" who promote anti-British, Marxist ideology.
They also argue that because of historical cases of paedophilia within the BBC, we should all boycott the license fee. TV Licence Resistance commented on one of its own posts: "Watching Jeff Dunham on Chromecast now, 100 percent legal unlike the BBC and its paedos." And on the monitoring efforts of licensing officials – including, most recently, backlash against new licensing "spy vans" – one commenter says: "Wish they'd have spent as much time keeping an eye on Jimmy Savile…"
So if you're feeling the intrusion of last week's law change on your re-run watching habits, and you too object to the BBC on a political, ethical or financial basis, join the resistance on Facebook – like one Samantha Lambert, for instance, who says the "best thing I ever did was to unplug from the matrix".
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