‘TV Licensing’ – an example of 21st Century cynicism

The following letter appeared in the Guardian:

A letter by Rev Paul Nicolson (Letters, 4 April) suggests: “The BBC also sends in the bailiffs to collect unaffordable TV licence fees.” This is incorrect. BBC and TV Licensing do not use bailiffs.

We know some people struggle to pay, so do everything we can to help people spread the cost, including weekly cash payments. TV Licensing worked with more than 460 third sector organisations this year to offer advice and support to people who, for financial reasons, might find it hard to stay licensed. To find out more, visit tvlicensing.co.uk/payinfo.
Dan Higgins
PR adviser, TV Licensing

I sent a letter to the Guardian but received an auto-response email which was pretty rude in tone (I hate being told “resend your email with a postcode” when it wouldn’t cost them anything to say “please resend your email with a postcode”. So this is my response which the Guardian missed out on:

In response to Dan Higgins from the BBC (letters 9 April).

It may be correct that TV Licensing (which is essentially a sort of made up organisation – there is no statutory body ‘TV Licensing’) does not use bailiffs. However they do send letters which include phrases such as “Action required immediately”, “your imminent appearance in court” and “official investigation”. They also send letters with dates circled on the outside and the message “will you be in?”

Their tactics appear to be based on the methods of debt collection agencies. They are designed to create and raise anxiety. However; there is one big difference with a debt collection agency. In the case of a debt collection agency the agency is engaged in a lawful process to recover a debt which they are owed. However; the fact is that no one in this country is under any legal obligation whatsoever to answer the BBC’s question about whether they watch television (or need a license). There is in fact no ‘SORN’ type legislation concerning TV licenses. This is an extra-judicial system which the BBC has made up.

Every year hundreds, thousands of elderly people must receive these letters and be frightened out of their wits. The explanation that the letters start nice and get progressively stronger fails on two counts. Firstly – if no one is legally obliged to answer any of these letters there is no legal justification for the increasing acerbity of the letters. Secondly, on a practical level; imagine the scenario that an elderly person has been in care for a while and comes home. They start opening their post from the top – and the first letter they open talks about their “imminent appearance in court”.

This scheme is extra-judicial and without doubt causes stress and anxiety to innocent people.
—–

We can also add that the letter from Mr Higgins appears to be quite disingenuous. Based on this BBC report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/uk-wales-12601219) it appears that the courts can use bailiffs to enforce fines relating to non payment of TV Licenses. So, the Reverend, whom Mr Higgins is ‘correcting’, may have been technically wrong – it is the courts not the BBC who sends out the bailiffs; nonetheless he was on the right tracks. In not admitting this, Mr Higgins while purporting to be offering a clarification is in fact muddying the waters.

The BBC scheme to hound innocent people in connection with TV licenses shows total disregard for the law and absolutely scant regard for what might be called human rights – certainly the right not to be molested if you are not breaking the law. That it is permitted says a great deal about the depths to which the authorities in this country have plummeted. They oversee a world in which elderly people and vicars are hounded and harassed by the authorities who should be protecting them. People like Mr Higgins illustrate a philistine and cynical attitude which has no place in a civilized society.

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1984

This site doesn’t usually comment on matters to do with state surveillance of and control of the Internet. Chiefly because the whole notion of “data privacy”, around which most of the public discussion is organised, is a liberal red-herring. However; this is really quite alarming.

What is proposed is that Facebook and other social media companies “collaborate” with GCHQ to manage the news that appears on these sites. They don’t, it seems, just want to know what you are reading; they want to manage what you can read in the first place.

It is a sign of the times that the Guardian reports this Orwellian development in a completely cool and factual way.

(We can add that the sight of an official from GCHQ lecturing Wikileaks on “responsible reporting” of security vulnerabilities is quite brazen, given that the whole point of the recent leaks is how they demonstrate that this is precisely what the CIA was not doing).

Lies from Winchester College, Hampshire, about child sexual abuse

A series of allegations have surfaced about a senior figure in the Church of England Evangelical movement. The allegations are that during he 1970’s this man carried out regular and repeated homosexual sado-masochistic beatings of boys and young men – both at Christian camps and, apparently, in his garden shed in Winchester.

It appears that Winchester College (a “leading public school”) knew about these activities and did not report the matter to the police. The present authorities at Winchester College have issued a media statement. The text is copied here:

Physical Punishment, 1977 ‐ 1982

Winchester College deeply regrets the terrible ordeals of the victims and pays tribute to their courage in speaking out.   The College has never sought to conceal these dreadful events.  Nothing was held back in 1982 in the school’s enquiries. Housemasters were informed, and many parents consulted.  The then Headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the College or contact its pupils.  No report was made to the police at the time, not least because, understandably, parents of the victims felt that their sons should be spared further trauma, and these wishes were respected.  We do not know whether any pupils or parents, undergraduates or university authorities, reported the matter directly to the police.

College authorities did their best to deal responsibly and sensitively with a difficult situation, in accordance with the standards of the time.  That John Smyth went on to abuse further, reveals the inadequacy of those standards.  The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities. Winchester College has already been in contact with the police regarding the allegations and will assist further in any criminal investigation.

The School has already reached out to victims where it has been able to do so.  A Victim Support Plan has been drawn up, and access to this provision is available to any former pupil who has been affected by these appalling events.

Comments:

This is a truly disgusting attempt to evade any responsibility and precisely what we would expect from a school such as Winchester College. Firstly; what is alleged is anything but the innocuous sounding “physical punishment”. The alleged abuser held no official role in the school (at least he was not  a teacher). It seems he simply hung around preying on young men who were interested in Christianity. He invited them – according to the allegations – to his shed and abused them there. This has nothing, zero, to do with ‘physical punishment’. It would appear that Winchester College is trying to cover up this foul abuse by downplaying it as “physical punishment”, which would have been lawful at the time.

The most sickening aspect of this attempt to evade any responsibility however lies in the attempt to blame “the standards of the time”. They are trying to say that they followed the “standards of the time” – and it was the standards which were not good enough. Thus – no blame can be attached to them. However; there were no “standards” at that time – as there are today. (As in standards of ‘Child Protection’). The “standards” referred to here are an invention of Winchester College. It is true that at the time (the 1980s) it was characteristic of institutions to deal with this kind of scandal by attempting to hush it up. But that is not a standard. The problem is (and we would hope that at least the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse‘ manages to establish this) that at that time institutions – such as Winchester College – acted in these matters only to protect themselves. Abusers were left free to abuse others. (In a sordid attempt to blackmail potential critics Winchester College tries to explain that this was done to protect the children from trauma. In reality being part of a cover-up protects no one from trauma. This would be a truism of child protection today and it is astonishing that Winchester College presents it as a reason for their inaction). In trying to construct this illusion about “standards of the time” Winchester College is trying to evade responsibility. In attempting a new cover-up Winchester College shows that it is still not ready to take responsibility. Those who don’t learn from history are, of course, condemned to repeat it. (Interestingly, during the 1980s history was not taught as a subject at Winchester College…)

Even today Winchester College clearly has no grasp of the law and regulations concerning Child Protection. They write: “The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities.” That isn’t the case. There is currently a campaign by some charities to have such a law passed. But it is not currently the law. This is explained in a government consultation document on mandatory reporting: “There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect”.  [1]. If Winchester College can’t even get basic facts right in an important statement about alleged serious abuse we can ask – what do they know about current Child Protection standards?

This author had the misfortune to attend Winchester College during the 1980s. He was abused by a revolting alcoholic house-master for 5 years. This man’s severe alcoholism was known to the school authorities but he was allowed to continue in post – to cause untold emotional damage to dozens of young men. When this author wrote to the current authorities at Winchester College in 2001 he was immediately referred to the College’s lawyers. When he replied pointing out that he had not mentioned legal action he received a dismissive reply that the College was pleased that he was not taking legal action about “a matter which happened such a long time ago”. The common theme is that Winchester College has only one interest; to protect itself as an institution. In neither this author’s experience, nor in their response to the current sexual abuse allegations, do we see any real evidence of contrition or apology.

My thoughts above are expressed much more eloquently by one of the abuser’s Winchester College victims:

As I said after the final news report in my silhouetted interview, I am hoping that those institutions who have known mine and other victims’ stories for so many years, but merely stepped back and observed, will now reconsider their responsibilities and act in the best interests of the victims, not themselves and their reputations. [2]

Except we can add that based on the media statement by Winchester College there doesn’t seem to be much sign of them acting in the interests of the victims and doing anything other than considering their reputations.

Notes

1. UK gov. consultation document on mandatory reporting

2. Telegraph

 

Synthetic outrage over Trump’s temporary ban on entry to the US

Trump has instituted 3 bans:

i. The US Syrian refugee resettlement programme is permanently suspended

ii. The overall US refugee resettlement programme is suspended for 120 days

iii. There is a 90 day entry ban on people from countries known to have a problem with terrorism (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) while the new administration works on tighter security procedures

The UK is (at least according to the Guardian) awash with protests. Apparently more than one million people have signed a petition calling for the state visit of the US President to the UK to be cancelled.

There is something odd about all this. The policies which Trump has instituted (which are widely mis-reported in the UK press as e.g. a “Muslim ban” and which mis-reports tend to fail to report the temporary nature of the controls) are matters of domestic US policy. They don’t affect UK citizens. Why are people demonstrating? Do they really think we live in one big country and domestic US policy impinges on us as it does on Americans? It seems so. Probably these people watch too much TV. Though at the same time this concern for US domestic policy perhaps does reflect a reality. We are a vassal state in the US Empire and as such people perhaps do legitimately feel “part of America”, as non-citizen provincials in, say, North Africa, might have felt part of Rome during the Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons Yvette Cooper was, according to the Guardian “shaking with emotion” as she made a speech against Trump’s new orders which “target Muslims”. (No they don’t. She hasn’t read the orders; they bar entry based on nationality not religion). But Ms Cooper was quite cool when she “flipped” houses 3 times in order to have the public pay for her mortgages. Either you stand for morality and uprightness or you don’t. Claims to be morally outraged on a point of principle are undermined if you haven’t got any.

 

The BBC arrogates court powers to itself

The BBC (a sort of huge local authority whose main purpose is to promote its own existence) has been responding to a change in the sentencing guidelines for people who don’t buy a TV license. The change allows courts to consider using a conditional discharge rather than a fine in a few cases.

The BBC, as quoted in the Daily Telegraph, said:

We do not believe that this will have material impact, as we already offer a conditional discharge where first-time offenders who buy a licence before their case comes to court are not prosecuted.

Given that, we think a further conditional discharge from magistrates will only be used in a very limited number of circumstances.

What is so horrible about this is that the BBC is arrogating to itself the powers of the court. The BBC does (it is true) allow people who are caught without a license to buy one rather than be prosecuted. (Of course they do; in these cases they get whatever the current cost of the license is whereas if it goes to court that costs them money and the government gets the fine). But this is not a ‘conditional discharge’. It is a commercial decision and nothing to do with the law or the courts at all. The BBC claiming that it has the right to issue court disposals is sinister. It is a good example of how local authorities often invent extra-judicial schemes and mistake themselves for the law. Anyone who reads this kind of arrogation of power and usurpation of the principle of the protection of law should be seriously concerned.

The BBC’s whole scheme for enforcing payment of the license fee is itself extrajudicial. It is based on sending harassing letters and making harassing calls to all households who have not bought a license. There is no mandate for such a scheme in law.

 

What happened to social solidarity (1)?

This is an article in the Guardian about how hard it is for people claiming Housing Benefit to get a private rental property.

The premise is correct. It is hard. The Guardian writer equates this to racial discrimination. This, however, is a false analogy. Racial discrimination is of a completely different order of seriousness. Assuming you believe that black people are no more unreliable than white people then to discriminate against a black person is pure racism. To discriminate against someone receiving social security to pay the rent may well be a rational decision. Apart from a greater likelihood of having a disruptive tenant (a perception for sure; but quite possibly true) there are other purely practical matters e.g. the rent will depend on the local authority who may pay late or change their rules at any time. It is characteristic of the shallow level of contemporary journalism to see such analogies made.

It is illuminating to read the reader comments section on this article. Neither in the article itself, nor in the comments section, (as far as this author has read), does anyone consider the actual relationship of landlord and tenant. The Guardian has picked a ‘top comment’. This comes from someone who may be supposed to be understood as a ‘socially responsible’ private landlord. In fact the notion of the ‘ethical buy to let landlord’ is often promoted by the Guardian. Ah. Liberals.

Charging people market rates to have a shelter over their head. Throwing them out if and when the labour market has temporarily dispensed with their services. This is the market over social solidarity. Taking advantage of your ownership of or access to private capital to make a profit out of a basic human need from someone who does not own capital is as exploitative as it gets. Private rental is not compatible with a society founded on solidarity. This is why the private rental market was made illegal in the Socialist USSR.

It seems that liberal ideology is so entrenched that even ‘left-wing’ criticisms of problems in the private rental market can go no further than wishing that more private landlords were socially responsible. This is sugar coating greed and exploitation.

Where is the left? (Ah. Dreaming of borrowing more money to spend on hugely inefficient public services supplied at huge profit margins by parasitic private companies. But that, of course, is another story).

Update

The above should be corrected. Most of the Guardian comments are of the order of suggesting tweaks to the existing system. This one stands out as an exception, from commentator ‘pearlygrey’:

The private rental sector does not exist to meet housing need for the many.

It exists to enrich landlords and promote accumulation of wealth (including vast transfers of public money) for the few. We need to build public housing and stop encouraging this mass, legalised theft.

A voice crying in the wilderness of course. There is no organised political movement in the UK which is founded on socialist ideas. The liberal ‘left’ limits itself to moaning about the effects of the individualistic, capitalist system it so fervently believes in. A system which embodies selfishness as its core principle can’t be made ‘nice’ with a few regulatory tweaks.

 

 

Liberal democracy under challenge.

Following Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections the Guardian has been full of articles by concerned columnists about what a disaster this is. Dark days of racism and misogyny lie ahead. He won because he was a misogynist. As a result of ‘scheming’, ‘ignorance’, ‘a ruthless network of super-rich ideologues’. And so on.

The overwhelming impression is that these people – liberal Guardian columnists – don’t accept democracy. When it produces a result contrary to their ideologies – it is explained away on any other basis than the one it happened on – an election in which people went out and made their choices. Guardian liberals justify their foreign wars on the basis of ‘democracy’. They justify their privileged position in Western society on the basis of ‘democracy’. They are the class that guards democracy and ensures that – while private wealth is fine, the poor are ‘looked after’ (a profitable business in itself) and ‘fairness’ – usually deviant sexuality and strangely concocted families – prevails. But when democracy returns a non-liberal they are really flummoxed.

The violent riots in the US against Trump’s election are described  by the Guardian as ‘action’ carried out by ‘activists’. [1] A choice of words which is close to condoning violence.

As with the success of the Brexit (and let’s face it anti-immigrant) campaign in the UK liberals seem only able to pass judgement on their opponents. Their opponents are ‘bigots’, ‘racists’, ‘a basket of deplorables’, neanderthals. They deplore their backwardness and diagnose them with various conditions. But they don’t engage them with substantive arguments. And so, they lose elections.

All this gives the lie to the claims of liberals to be the champions of democracy. If you only accept democracy when it produces a liberal result that isn’t really democracy. The interesting question is how far this could go. If the West continues to see a rise in non-liberal parties attaining to positions of actual power through democratic means the liberals will be faced with a choice. Either they will have to accept democracy; something they will find hard to do. Or, perhaps they will find a reason to dispense with it. And there will be a Franco type solution. (Franco led a coup in Spain in 1936 against an elected leftist government and established a 36 year rule of a fascist state. The US accepted Franco’s undemocratic government because it saw in it a bulwark against the Soviet Union). [2]

It remains to be seen if the liberal world order is really being challenged by the rise of populist and nationalist movements, or if this is just a surface change. A lot depends on whether Donald Trump actually implements the policies he has talked about during his campaign. If there is a real directional change in the offing what will be the reaction of the liberals?

Notes

1. Guardian. Nov 2016. Report on anti-Trump ‘action’ in the US

2. WikiPedia article on Franco.