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UK PM David Cameron plans to decriminalise watching TV without paying the licence fee.
In the UK, it is currently against the law to watch or record live TV programmes without a licence, and the offence can lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.
The Conservatives have previously aborted attempts to make the offence punishable only by a fine, amid concerns it would make the public more likely to skip paying and cost the BBC £200 million a year. But the move would also save up to 300,000 people a year from a criminal record, and the PM’s spokesman has confirmed that Cameron still views the enforcement as heavy-handed and wants it changed.
John Whittingdale, who was this week appointed Culture Secretary, has made no secret of his belief that the licence fee is in need of reform, describing it as “worse than the poll tax”.
In February 2015, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee chaired by Whittingdale, described criminal penalties and enforcement for non-payment of the licence as “anachronistic” and out of proportion with responses to non-payment for other services. “Decriminalisation of the licence fee should be linked to other measures to prevent an increase in evasion, possibly by introducing controls for access to television services and a move to a German-style household broadcasting levy,” suggested Whittingdale at the time.