The BBC's tactics: intimidation and extortion?

I can't believe these people! The BBC, under the name of TV Licensing, appears to be raging a war of terror on the population of Britain and I have no idea why anyone here puts up with it.

I walk in from a fun and tiring few days at BarCampLondon2 to be greeted with an anonymous letter addressed to "The Legal Occupier". I open it and find yet another threatening letter from the BBC.

It reads (emphasis mine):

Official Warning - This Property Is Unlicensed

You are hereby notified that we have authorised officers from our Enforcement Division to visit your home and interview you under caution, as our records show there is still no TV License at this address and as yet we have received no response to previous communications from you.

Your statement will be taken in compliance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984*, and is the first step in our action to prosecute if we find evidence that you watch or record television without a valid license.

I feel it is my duty to inform you that if found guilty, you could receive a maximum fine of £1000, and your name will be added to our National Enforcement Database. We take this offense very seriously and last month alone we caught 21,718 people.

To avoid an appearance in court before a magistrate I would strongly advise you to call 0870 241 7204 or buy a TV License online at

Yours faithfully, John Robinson Regional Enforcement Manager

Please see reverse for important TV Licensing Information, including exclusions and how to pay. A TV License currently costs £131.50 for colour and £44 for black and white. * In Scotland, interviews and cautions are made in line with Scottish criminal law. . . . If you buy your TV License now, you don't need to call us.

For those of you who don't live in the UK, here's a little background:

The BBC is funded by TV License fees paid by anyone in the UK who watches television. They don't have to watch the BBC but have to pay this license fee in any case. Although it is called a "fee", since you have to pay it regardless of whether you receive the service, it is actually a tax and was recently officially acknowledged as a tax.

So, my initial gripe is that by calling it a "fee", they are misrepresenting something that is a tax. But it doesn't end there by a long shot.

You see, since the BBC doesn't want to have its lovely image tarnished, it set up a separate entity called TV Licensing to deal with gathering this tax. The correspondence and advertising that TV Licensing spews out does not contain any references to the BBC but their website makes the relationship clear. So, let's understand that TV Licensing is the BBC and in the rest of this post, I will simply refer to the BBC.

If you live in London (and other parts of the UK, I'm sure), you have no doubt seen the threatening advertising that the BBC adorns billboards and Underground walls with. (One ad reads: "We have a list of every unlicensed address in Britain. Don't believe us? Fine.")

Understand what this is: It is the BBC subjecting a mass of the citizenry -- the very public that pays for it on a daily basis -- to a nasty campaign of fear, intimidation and threats.

Why should I have to read this crap on my way to work or when heading out for a movie? What right do these people have to threaten us on a daily basis? If you were to go out and threaten a single person, it's more than likely that they would complain to the police. What about threatening a carriage full of people or a whole train of people with ads? How is this even allowed?

The BBC puts out these nasty, threatening ads under the name of TV Licensing because it doesn't want its own image to be identified with them. Well I hope that that's going to get increasingly more difficult in our so-called information age and I will sure as hell do whatever I can to make sure that people connect the dots.

So in my title I asked whether the BBC employs extortion. That would be a very strong accusation to make, considering that extortion is illegal. It is my belief that the letter I was sent, reproduced above, is all the evidence you need to see that the BBC, under the name of TV Licensing, are engaging in extortion. The letter states that in order "[t]o avoid an appearance in court before a magistrate" I must either call an 0870 number or buy a TV License.

Let's review the definition of extortion for a moment:

Extortion (n): the practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats - New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition

The BBC's letter threatens me that either I buy a TV License (pay them money) or I call a premium rate number (pay them money) to inform them that I don't have to buy a license or that I will risk "an appearance in court before a magistrate".

Either way, using a threat, the BBC gets money: either from the TV License or from their cut of the premium-rate 0870 number (According to a BBC spokesman: "the national rate numbers help TV Licensing to keep the costs of collection down and maximise licence fee revenue".)

What was the definition of extortion, again?

So what about my situation? Am I basking in the glimmering glory of the BBC every night, or watching some other TV channels and robbing this poor institution of a license fee? No. I haven't received a television signal in my home since I arrived in this country. I have two TV sets. One's a small one that I used to use a long time ago while editing video (it sits, unplugged, in the store room) and the other is a new 46" baby that I use solely for my Wii and XBox 360. If I ever get Sky HD, I'll be forced to pay the TV Tax (and I will) but until that day, it feels like the the BBC are wrongfully harassing me and trying to extort me for money (and, I can only assume, many others also).

There is an online petition to the Prime Minister to stop TV Licensing (the BBC) from harassing people who have no television (or who don't receive television signals on the TV sets) that I would strongly urge you to sign.

The worst thing is, these horrible tactics by the BBC are playing right into the hands of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire who would love nothing more than to see the BBC abolished. Well, let me tell you something, as much as I hate Murdoch, at least his media outlets do not outright threaten me and try to extort money from me (OK, they do their own brand of damage, some of it possibly far worse, but that's another story.)

To the BBC: Stop harassing and threatening the British public. If you're so proud of your despicable tactics, at least own up to them and issue your threats under your own brand instead of hiding behind the TV Licensing name. I, for one, am sick and tired of being seen as guilty until proven innocent and I am fed up with your constant abuse.

Surely this tactic employed by the BBC cannot be legal and allowed to continue?

Update: Read the stories of other people who have been threatened and intimidated by the BBC.