back to article BBC Telly Tax heavies got pat on the head from snoopers' overseers

The BBC got top marks from the artists formerly known as the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) – but has refused to say if it will push for fewer external inspections of its use of creepy surveillance powers. The OSC (which has since been merged into the UK's uber-spying regulator, the Investigatory Powers …

  1. DavCrav Silver badge

    Re: Paying for a license is optional

    "Of all the taxes in life at least I get some things back out the Beeb..."

    Yes, those hospitals, schools and roads are useful too though.

  2. Dabooka Silver badge

    Re: Paying for a license is optional


    I agree and have no problem with that, I was simply suggesting that not everyone grumbles about paying the licence fee.


    I was kind of being flippant, but your point is of course utterly valid.

    Chaps, I'm just trying to add a bit of balance to the argument. The story is about RIPA and Capita as much (if not more) than the licence fee, yet it always descends into the same old blah about how there's nothing of value on telly and it's an idiot tax; loads of comments about how TV isn't for them, it's all rubbish and the only reason they own a Sony Trinitron is to watch 8mm cine films captured into MP4 and stored on a NAS they access via an original X-Box that can't stream. Well that's not always the case and not everyone who watches TV is an idiot.

    Let the downvotes commence....

  3. A____B

    Re: Paying for a license is optional

    I'd gladly pay a subscription - but only if ALL channels asked for it.

    The BBC suffers because the costs are visible. We all pay for ITV, C4, C5... but the costs are hidden.

    Unless the commercial stations are operated by a benevolent cash fairy, they will need an income to pay for staff and equipment; this comes from advertisers. Again, unless the advertisers work for free, their 'creative genius' needs to be paid for (plus 'production' costs for their masterpieces); this comes from the people whose product is advertised. They in turn will need to get money to cover these costs - and this comes from the customers - you and me.

    Remember when you watch a programme and see adverts from Tesco, Sainsbury's, insurance companies... when you do your shopping a part of the bill is going to subsidise commercial channels whether you watch them or not.

    On the whole, I like the BBC model - at least they don't have to shy away from topics for fear of offending powerful companies and their advertising budget and they can steer away from lowest common denominator mass audiences for ratings.

  4. Stuart 22

    "It's an offence to own a TV that is cable of picking up a TV signal with no licence. You could be using that TV to watch old DVDs, Bluray or VHS or just for at games consoles. As long as you have no internet and no TV aerial you can still own the TV without a licence."

    In the shadow of Crystal Palace you got better TV reception without an aerial than with in the old analogue days. Sadly since we went digital you need an aerial but then that appears to overload our TVs. As for mobile reception - don't get me started ...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "you need an aerial but then that appears to overload our TVs"

    I had a similar problem with my 8 way TV distribution amplifier. Last year when the trees lost their leaves I started getting picture break up on a couple of the TV's. It turned out that the signal strength was too high. Rather then putting in attenuators I replaced the distribution amplifier with a passive splitter and now all the TV's have a great picture.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would have just planted more trees but each to their own.

  7. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Some follow-up questions to ask...

    So if Capita can authorise themselves to use RIPA powers, which powers are they actually using?

    Interception of communications? Do they spy on suspects emails, letters and telephone calls hoping to catch people discussing the events in Eastenders?

    Intrusive surveillance? Do they mount cameras peering into peoples homes? Or do they mount cameras inside people's homes hoping to catch them watching televisions? Do they keep statistics on houses watched? E.g. do they only monitor suspect houses with teenage girls resident? Because... pervs?

    Covert Human Intelligence Sources? Do they send a bloke down the pub to befriend you and trick you into revealing that you watched telly last night?

    So many questions, so many inadequate answers from Capita, the BBC and the regulator.

  8. Solarflare

    Re: Some follow-up questions to ask...

    I was wondering that on emyself. Can I authorise myself to read through government systems to make sure they aren't doing anything dodgy? I would assume not. Why can a private company (even one so beloved by government outsourcing) authorise itself to do anything like this?

  9. Killfalcon Bronze badge

    Re: Some follow-up questions to ask...

    I assume that Capita is acting on behalf of the BBC, and that they're specifically called out (alongside councils, health authorities, police whatsits and the like) as a group that's permitted to use certain powers.

    That doesn't answer which powers the Beeb can use, but it would be why you can't invoke RIPA to tap your neighbour's phoneline.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Some follow-up questions to ask...

    "Intrusive surveillance? Do they mount cameras peering into peoples homes? Or do they mount cameras inside people's homes hoping to catch them watching televisions? Do they keep statistics on houses watched?"

    Without getting paranoid about it, I am pretty sure that at my previous address, there was (I think) an attempt at surveillance.

    I was leaving the building one morning and a well dressed, suited gentleman was attempting to gain entry to our building..but as everyone was out, no-one let him in, via the entry phone system. He was attempting to deliver a slim package to my next door neighbour, with whom I share a common wall between our respective dwellings, which just happens to be the sitting room.

    There was no need for me to provide a signature and the package had no return address on it. So I was able to take the package from him and he then left - in a very smart, recent reg, Range Rover (who's number plate I jotted down "just in case").

    So, I popped this into my neighbours mailbox and went to work.

    I did a couple of check and indeed the registration number was very similar to others that perhaps are related to certain organisations - use Google "image" search and see what I mean when you type in a vehicle reg number...

    I suspect my neighbour might have been asked "to help them with their investigations" there are some really nice "audio detectors, fitted with a SIM card slot" which allows someone to "call in" to the device and listen for any sounds that might be coming through the party wall.

    Given that I only have a TV for watching Amazon Prime, Netflix and DVD's (and at the time when it was bought, large "monitor" flat screens, which have no analogue or digital tuners were not easily available or reasonably priced) so I doubt I need a license....but I took the liberty of disconnecting and then blanking off the TV aerial socket, in case I received a visit.

    Of course, nowadays, with almost everyone having a fast-ish internet connection, and network connected Blu-Ray player (as mine is) and HDMI ports on TV's, so I could be "done" on the basis that my tech *could* allow me to watch BBC iPlayer....even if I don't.

  12. Daniel Snowden

    Snail mail trolling of Crapita

    Maybe we should get James Veitch to reply to some of the TV Licensing nastygrams for the purpose of trolling them - he is rather good at that sort of thing.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Snail mail trolling of Crapita

    James Veitch of Email Spam TED Talk fame? We were next door neighbours for a few months last year and he tells me is currently working on a TV License People piece... keep an eye on his YouTube channel :-)

  14. steviebuk Silver badge

    Re: Snail mail trolling of Crapita

    He's always reminded me of a book I was given:

    Delete This at Your Peril: The Bob Servant Emails

    I wonder if he read that.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Instead they told us

    ask again. And then about twice more, then apply under freedom of information.

  16. MJI Silver badge

    Can be difficult

    If you like the BBC but hate Crapita.

  17. Jove Bronze badge

    There is no justification of for the BBC TV license and is an obscenity in the modern age.

  18. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I just wish they'd leave me alone

    I've lost count of how many times over the years I've told them NO. What grounds do they have for thinking the situation has changed?

  19. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Re: I just wish they'd leave me alone

    > I've lost count of how many times over the years I've told them NO. What grounds do they have for thinking the situation has changed?

    Send an FOIA request to the BBC asking them how many times you've told them 'no'. :-)

  20. John70

    How about reduce presenters/actors wages to a maximum of £60k and drop the cost of a TV Licence...

    After all do you think Chris Evans is worth £2million?

  21. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Yes, we watch TV. Even the BBC.

    And we're honest enough to admit it. And sometimes we even buy products that advertise on TV.

    The operative word in that paragraph is "honest." As far as I can tell the phrase "I never watch TV" is code for "I torrent lots of crappy American sitcoms, so I'm cool."

    In all honesty you people complaining about the BBC or Channel 4 have no concept of how good they are compared to the wasteland that is North American TV. For every "Sopranos" there are literally a thousand shows like "The Bachelor" and "Peoples' Court." And of course Fox News.

    We happily pay for a VPN to watch the BBC from Canada (as well as the excellent BFI player) and would probably even buy a TV licence if they would let us.

  22. pauhit

    Re: Yes, we watch TV. Even the BBC.

    Modern American TV is the best thing to happen to the US. With nothing nothing on, ever, there is never any reason to sit down and watch tv, and am more productive as a result.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Claverhouse

    Re: Yes, we watch TV. Even the BBC.

    Re: Yes, we watch TV. Even the BBC.

    @Barry Rueger

    The operative word in that paragraph is "honest." As far as I can tell the phrase "I never watch TV" is code for "I torrent lots of crappy American sitcoms, so I'm cool."

    Not well thought out, since people who say they never watch TV would generally either not watch anything at all --- such do exist --- or refer exclusively to broadcast TV, properly excluding use of recorded material such as VHS or DVD etc..

    And in some cases they might do that precisely to avoid paying the broadcast tax --- and not give a fuck about poor starving producers, directors, marketing people et al..

    [ It's kinda difficult to feel sorry for the financial woes of people in the BBC and say, C4, who abet the government's assault on the Welfare State, now having the chance to feel good about not taking state aid themselves and passing peacefully to that Great Beyond. ]

  25. Sam Therapy Bronze badge
    Thumb Down

    "Evading the BBC TV licence is a criminal offence for anyone who uses a television..."

    Nope. If you don't watch any live-to-air broadcasts, restrict your viewing to subscription services such as Netflix, or watch DVDs, you don't need one.

  26. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

    Re: Sam Therapy

    It's fixed - by "uses a television," we meant watching live telly.


  27. Sam Therapy Bronze badge

    Re: Sam Therapy

    Right you are. :)

  28. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I don't mind paying a fee for ad free telly, It annoyed me when i had Sky that you paid a subscription and yet you still had to sit through adverts, often more frequent ad breaks that you had on free to view commercial channels.

    There are some shows that I enjoy watching that would probably get axed if the BBC were to go commercial. Shows like Spring/Autumn watch would probably never survive in a world where the ad men dictate what programs are commissioned.

  29. scrubber Silver badge


    Why are TV viewers, who are poorer than BBC radio listeners, forced to subsidise them?

  30. Jonathan 27

    Re: Subsidy

    Radio is relatively cheap to produce and broadcast.

  31. scrubber Silver badge

    Re: Subsidy

    "Radio is relatively cheap"

    £670m is not cheap. In fact it's more than Channel 4 spend and three times Channel 5's annual programming budget. It's even more than the BBC spend on BBC2!

  32. Jonathan 27

    £150.50 seems like a lot just for over the air TV, and even then only 4 channels. Here in Canada all over the air signals are free (in fact it is illegal to charge for over the air TV or radio). Because I like downtown in the largest city in Canada I get 17 channels, which are a mix of domestic and US. Although I rarely watch them. Obviously, it's mostly ad-supported (except for a few "member supported" channels) but I can definitely see why you guys wouldn't want to pay £150.50 A YEAR for the BBC. That's more than Netflix!

  33. Dabooka Silver badge

    Well on that basis...

    But it's a lot more than just 4 channels so your comparison isn't really fair. And Netflix et al rely on an internet connection remember, factor that cost in too

  34. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Of course you're already funding the CBC to the tune of a little bit less than $50 each year, so it's not "free." There has been a suggestion that CBC TV drop advertising, which would increase that funding. On average, government funding of public broadcasting in western democracies is around $80 per citizen per year.

  35. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "Because I like downtown in the largest city in Canada I get 17 channels,"

    Is that all? Pretty much the entire UK gets access to a lot more "free to air" than that via terrestrial digital or, for those areas not covered due to remoteness or signal blocking obstacles, via FreeSat.

    (Ok, yes, it's not actually "free" in that the licence is required, but way more than 17 channels, even so, but then the Canadian "TV licence fee" is paid by everyone, TV owners or not, out of general taxation, but does work out cheaper.)

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the BBC Sucks

    Snooker is being shown by an increasing number of channels. That is a good thing. Yet the BBC who have the rights to show The Welsh Open only show it to the Welsh. They have been doing it for years. This is racism. They have content that all the TVL payers have paid for yet refuse to show it to those people. Then they cry that people don't want to give them money. Any other organisation that was in the business of providing a service for money would not hide content as it would cost them money. Because the BBC get paid regardless, the racist moves continue. Welsh Snooker is only for the Welsh and all the presenters have to be Welsh. Fuck the BBC. The sooner they fold the better.

  37. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

    Magical Detector Vans

    In the six years I lived in the UK during the late 90's/early naughties (the era of CRT televisions that supposedly could be easily detected) I was visited three times being told that I had an unlicensed TV that had been "detected". This was amusing as I had no TV, finding British television earnest but tedious. And it happened at three different locations (due to my tendency to move apartments once the council tax people had started to get stoppy).

    It's as science based as homeoathy or astrology.

  38. MrZoolook

    Re: Magical Detector Vans

    "due to my tendency to move apartments once the council tax people had started to get stoppy"

    You mean you evaded paying council tax?

    Two minor points.

    1. Why the fuck should everyone else pay for services you undoubtedly used, and yet you think you shouldn't have to?

    2. Now you have revealed yourself as a tax dodger, much like the corporations who eventually get a 90% discount on unpaid tax, your story seems somewhat less than credible.

  39. GrumpyKiwi Silver badge

    Re: Magical Detector Vans

    Yes I did. I evaded council tax, tv licensing, speeding fines, parking fines and a great many other such things. And I don't feel in the least bit bad about it either. I also pumped several hundred thousand pounds into the British economy becasue I sure as hell didn't bring more than $20 back with me.

    But I'm not sure quite how that makes the TV detector vans any more credible or my story any less credible - magical thinking maybe? Perhaps they detected me by homeopathic techniques with molecules of TV broadcasts being found on me? Or by astrology as they could tell from my star sign that the Sun was about to move into Uranus because I bought some soothing creams.

  40. Vetis

    Capita having access to RIPA powers is obscene but this has been abused by every agency to access it so far I believe.

    BBC is £ 150 a year, netflix is £95.88. Amazon Prime is the same so combined are £191.76. So 12 a month vs 15.

    Compare everything on netflix and amazon to the garbage the bbc puts out. half a day of light entertainment, hours on end of the same news, a cop show. In addition you would get amazon music, free delivery, a free twitch sub (worth £43 a year in itself if you sub to someone on twitch), prime reading\kindle. I know which I prefer. £3 extra is a bargain.

  41. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    I've not used Amazon Prime, but Netflix is shite. There's not enough content to keep me interested with a years worth of subscription. The month gift subscription was more than long enough to see all I wanted to see. All they do is pick the cream of what they can find, mix on a lot of skimmed milk to bulk it out.

    Every content producer makes some gems and, to many peoples minds, lots of dross, although who thinks what is a gem and what is dross doesn't always overlap. The likes of Netflix don't produce much, though are starting to, they just use their buying power to put what they think is the best of the best all in one place so it appears they are better than the rest. Most of what Netflix have in their UK accessible library has already been broadcast elsewhere.

  42. Gerry 3

    You can easily STOP the nastygrams !

    @ Will Godfrey

    I didn't have a TV and just ignored the fortnightly nastygrams, letting them build up into a pile about two feet high. They became ever nastier, with pictures of courtrooms etc, and were sometimes disguised to look like bank PIN notifications or payslips.

    On principle, I still kept ignoring them.

    It might have been different if they had politely asked me to confirm that I didn't need a licence, explaining that there was no obligation whatsoever to respond, but they'd be eternally grateful if I would just return the enclosed post-paid declaration form: I might well have done so.

    Eventually the goons started to send their nastygrams by Registered mail. As I was always at work when the postman called, that necessitated an unnecessary trip to the Head Post Office the following Saturday. It would have been tempting to keep ignoring them, but there was always the risk that one of them might be something I wanted (e.g. a bank card) or something I didn't want but needed to know about (e.g. a speed camera ticket).

    Enough was enough, so many years ago I sent a letter withdrawing their Implied Right of Access (signed as The Occupier). For good measure I also stated that I was fully aware of the penalties for watching live TV without a licence so there was no justification for reminding me every fortnight and, as they could no longer send the boys round, continuing to send scary letters threatening to do so would be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

    Result: they confirmed they would never bother me again - and they haven't !

  43. Hunterman

    Ex-BBC reporter makes it into IT journalism

    " ... a myth which other grown-ups implausibly continue to play along with."

    A split infinitive as well as ending a sentence with a preposition. Yet again, an example of modern-day multimedia journalism descending to new depths of grammatical ineptitude.

    I expect we shall see future reports from El Reg scribes to be peppered with further indications of thirty-plus years of declining standards in teaching English such as the new-age glottal stop - "like".

  44. MrZoolook

    Re: Ex-BBC reporter makes it into IT journalism

    Glottal Stop... I had to see a doctor about that!

  45. Hubert Thrunge Jr.

    Make the letters stop....

    Though thinking about it, what will I use to light my fire?

    After four phonecalla, six emails to the Crapita team tasked with dealing with it, they refuse to acknowledge that my other house, which was a bit of a building site for a while, is unoccupied, and has no television of any sort.

    So, the letters keep coming.

    I take them to my new home and use them when I light the fire.

    I'd have to buy a newspaper if they stop, and I have difficulty grasping the concept to paying for biassed reporting whatever side.

    We don't get free papers out here in the sticks, and with no current Foot & Mouth outbreaks, there are no sheep to burn either.

    Deep joy.


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