The TV Police

part of Ireland by Michael Levin

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One day when we lived in Ireland, a knock came to the door of our little cottage in Sandymount. I called out on the intercom, "Good Morning!" and waited for the reply. A voice answered, "Postman". So, I opened the door. There stood a man in a An Post uniform, with a clipboard.

The postman greeted me, "Good mornin', would you be the owner of this house?"

I answered, "No, we just moved here from America. I don't own the house; it's rented".

The postman replied, "Welcome to Ireland! What would your name be?"

As I told him my name, he licked his pencil as if to ready a fountain pen, and wrote it down on his pad of paper on a brown clipboard.

He said, "Are you the only one living in this house?"

I replied, "No, I live here with my wife."

He asked, "And, what would her name be?"

Again, as I answered, he took his yellow lead pencil and wrote the name down on his ruled paper.

He looked up and as he spoke, I saw his eye peer through the open window next to me into the living room at our latest aquisition: a 26 inch Panasonic color TV. He asked, "Do you have any TV's in the house?"

Up to this point, I had answered his questions thinking he wanted to know who we were so that he could ensure that the mail was delivered to the correct address. Or, just to be friendly, and be able to greet us by name when he delivered the mail and perhaps, thank us personally when we offered him a fresh scone my wife was likely to make and serve with a cuppa Barry's tea.

I proudly pointed over my shoulder to the slightly used Panasonic I felt very clever having just bought from the TV Repair Shop in Sandymount for a reasonable price, "We have that one over there."

He made a note on his notepad

He asked, "Is that the only one you own?"

I replied, "Yes.", beginning to get curious.

He asked "Do you have a license for it?"

That was a new one. A TV license? I answered "A TV License. I'm sure we do."

He replied, his expression turning serious, "Would you be mindin' if I were to have a look at it?"

I answered, "Well, I don't know where it is..."

He replied, "No worries: you'll be getting a letter in the mail in a few days. Don't be concerned by the wording. It just says that you need to go to An Post and get a TV License. Good day, Michael."

A few days later, sure enough, a letter from An Post came in the mail. It had "Warrant" written in large letters on the top and described the penalties for not having a proper TV license including hefty fine, confiscation of equipment and ...gasp...imprisonment!

So, of course, I went down to the post office right away and told the attendant that I was there to get a TV license.

He looked at me and said "That'll be 60 quid."

So, what I learned was that, in Ireland you paid an annual fee for the privilege of viewing television. In return, you got no commercials. But, the warrant startled me a bit! I told this story on Public Radio at our local PBS affiliate, WMFE for their fund drive. So, what would you rather do: be forced to pay for a TV license or have commercials? It seems that with NPR we have the best of both worlds: listener-supported commercial-free broadcasting on a voluntary basis.

I thought of this story this morning, as I read the Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ) news and noticed how you can conveniently pay your TV license fee online now. As I read, I couldn't help hearing the melody to Cheap Trick, "Dream Police".