A Licence to Watch Television

Aug 5, 2020 0 comments

In many countries, owing a television involves more than one type of cost. First the device itself, which may cost, depending on your taste, from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Then, there are subscription fees for television channels and online streaming, as well as electricity cost. And lastly, a tax for owning the television set, especially if you live in Europe.

The purpose of television licence is to fund public broadcasting services. Many state-owned TV channels are largely funded through these taxes. The balance is paid through advertisement, although this differs from country to country. The Polish TVP broadcaster, for instance, receives more funds from advertisements than from its TV tax.

watching television

Photo: tynyuk/Shutterstock.com

Television licence, and sometimes a radio licence, which is a licence fee one has to pay to own a radio receiver, is mostly a European thing. The only other countries outside Europe where this tax exist are Japan, Pakistan and South Korea, in Asia, and Namibia, Ghana, South Africa and Mauritius, in Africa. In the past, many more countries had this taxation policy, but it was abolished. Other countries like Brazil and the United States never had television license.

The United Kingdom was the first country to force a compulsory television subscription, with all the money collected going to the BBC, which was formed in 1927. The licence was originally known as a wireless licence. With the arrival of television, some countries created a separate additional television licence, while others simply increased the radio licence fee to cover the additional cost of TV broadcasting, changing the licence's name from "radio licence" to "TV licence" or "receiver licence". Today most countries fund public radio broadcasting from the same licence fee that is used for television, although a few still have separate radio licences, or apply a lower or no fee at all for consumers who only have a radio. Some countries also have different fees for users with color or black and white TV.

tv license canada

Canadian radio receiving station licence, issued on 31 July 1948. Photo: Auric/Wikimedia Commons

radio license india

Radio licence was issued in India until 1984, when it was abolished. It was introduced in 1928, a year after the British system. Photo: Reddit

radio license india

Radio and television licences in India had to be renewed at the post office yearly. Wireless license Inspector from the post office was authorized to check every house and establishment for the WLB (Wireless license book) shown above. Defaulters were penalized and sometimes their radios and TVs seized. Photo: Reddit

In some countries, such as Serbia and Romania, licence fees are paid through electricity bills. Clubbing the television licence with electricity bills makes it difficult for consumers to evade the fees. It has been estimated that about 5 percent of TV owners in the United Kingdom never pay the fee. Evasion rates are highest in Poland, with over 65 percent TV owners shrinking from paying their dues. With such high evasion rates, the Polish government is now mulling over abolishing the television licence altogether, and fund public broadcaster from general taxation.

Detection of evaders is a fairly simple matter. Because nearly all homes are licenced, only those homes that do not have a licence need to be checked. The BBC claims that they posses special “television detector vans” that roam the streets seeking out unlicenced TV owners. These claims have never been verified by any independent source, nor is BBC willing to reveal the technology behind these vans. Many believe that these detector vans is simply a ruse to frighten people into thinking they could be detected and then pursued for not having a TV licence.

television detector van

A BBC television detector van. Photo: Central Press/Getty Images

television detector van

Inside a television detection van, 1956. Photo: Bert Brown/BIPs/Getty Images

television detector van

A television detector van, said to be the only one surviving. Photo: kitmasterbloke/Flickr

Austrians pay the highest television licence fee, about €335 annually. Albania has the lowest with less than €6 a year. Only 15 European countries currently have the tax. A couple of others pay the tax as part of their electricity bill. In Israel, only car owners are charged a radio tax.

# Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_licence
# Tim Masters, How is TV funded around the world?, https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-26546570
# Adam Banks, The real scandal is that you still believe TV licence detector vans are real, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/08/bbc-tv-licence-vans-wi-fi-snooping-analysis/2/


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