Street protests at TV licence `shaming'

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TELEVISION licence dodgers are being targeted by an advertising campaign which names specific "streets of shame" where suspected fee evaders live.

More than 30 streets, picked at random from the TV Licensing database, are named on posters, along with how many houses there are without a licence in that particular street.

London is the focus for this latest blitz because TV Licensing says it is one of the worst areas in the country for evasion. The agency plans to extend the campaign to other parts of Britain where there are high levels of non-payment.

Figures show that more than 1.8 million people have a television without a licence, which last year resulted in pounds 160m in lost revenue.

Sources at the Department of Media, Culture and Sport say people have been writing to their MPs to complain about the "personal" nature of the campaign.

TV Licensing denies that the advertisements are too hard-hitting or represent an invasion of privacy. It does, however, admit that the motive is to make the campaign as personal as possible, to encourage people to pay up. "We want to show people that the reality of getting a knock at the door is getting closer and closer," said a source. "What we are doing does not infringe the Data Protection Act because we do not name people or individual houses."

However, many of the law-abiding residents of Munster Road, SW6, are not amused at being "singled out" for criticism. The road features in one of the posters, which claims that two of the houses on the street do not have a television licence.

Linda Malcolm, editor of a construction magazine, lives on the road. She said that the advertisements were an infringement of human rights. "I don't think something like this would affect house prices but it smacks of victimisation," she said.

"I also don't believe they have chosen the addresses at random. It seems like it has been done deliberately. This is a very mixed street, so it would not surprise me if people on the estate at the other end had not paid but the rest had. It's not like television is much good these days anyway."

Her views are echoed by Lynn Southcott, who has two children and lives further down the road. "It's an insult and not very flattering or fair to be singled out like this," she said. "Why should they have to make something like this public? If they know who has not paid, they should get on with it and not broadcast it. It's a completely negative thing to do."

Danny and Neil, who share a house on Munster Road, already know what it is like to receive a visit from a detection officer.

Only a few weeks ago, a man came to their door asking if they had a licence. Luckily they had just bought one. However, they feel the adverts would not frighten people into paying up.

"Advertising has lost its power to shock and no one will be scared by this campaign," says Danny, who works for an internet company. "I did not have a licence for six years, but we've got one now. Obviously their records are not very good if they send someone round when we have already bought a licence."

The war against the licence evaders has been helped by new hand-held scanners which can detect the radiation emitted by a television within seconds. The old scanners could take as many as six attempts to pinpoint an individual television.

TV Licensing is already claiming the first victory with more than 30,000 people caught with the new equipment in the three weeks before Christmas last year, compared with 33,000 during the six-week period which included the World Cup finals.