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BBC funding fears 'over-excitement'

Published 12/05/2015

John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, has said the BBC licence fee is
John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, has said the BBC licence fee is "worse than the poll tax"

Fears that the new Conservative Government will seek to radically overhaul the way the BBC is funded and governed have been put down to "over-excitement" by Business Secretary Sajid Javid.

David Cameron's appointment of veteran Tory MP John Whittingdale to Mr Javid's old post of Culture Secretary has led to warnings in some reports that the Government is set to "go to war with the BBC".

Mr Whittingdale, in his previous role as chair of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, made no secret of his belief that the licence fee, which provides the basis of the BBC's funding, is in need of reform, describing it as "worse than the poll tax".

But Mr Javid played down suggestions that Mr Whittingdale's appointment meant the BBC was under threat.

Asked about reports saying the Government will "go to war with the BBC", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No, not at all.

"There's a bit of over-excitement in those headlines."

Mr Javid went on: "I think it's time to have the charter review.

"Now it's a process that will take place over a number of months and it should be driven by the evidence.

"When it comes to long-term funding of the BBC, clearly there have been lots of changes in the broadcasting environment, not least technology changes, and I think it's sensible to look at that to make sure the BBC is on a sustainable long-term funding arrangement and I know John is just the right person for that job."

Mr Whittingdale's appointment has sparked warnings that the renewal of the BBC's Royal Charter, which sets out the licence fee settlement and expires in 2016, could see far-reaching change at the corporation.

Appearing last year on a Bafta panel, Mr Whittingdale said that in the short-term the licence fee was in need of "tweaking" to sort out what he described as "anomalies".

In particular, he questioned whether it could continue as a "flat-rate poll tax", regardless of household income.

In the longer term - over the next 20 to 30 years - he suggested it would prove "unsustainable" altogether.

Mr Whittingdale has also previously said that the broadcaster "has tried for too long to be all things to all people".

And after the corporation was hit by the Jimmy Savile scandal and a Newsnight investigation which led to the late Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse, Mr Whittingdale said it had "suffered from a succession of disasters of its own making".

The Institute for Economic Affairs said the charter renewal process should consider whether having a public service broadcaster is necessary or desirable and called for a "significant slimming down" of the corporation.

The director-general of the right wing think-tank, Mark Littlewood, raised the possibility of the BBC introducing adverts to its channels and stations, or charging subscriptions.

He said: "Aside from examining how the broadcaster is funded, it's crucial to consider the question of whether having a 'public service broadcaster' is necessary or desirable at all.

"There is little justification for the current all-singing, all-dancing BBC. Without a significant slimming down of the organisation, an outcome that does not lead to some kind of voluntary or commercial basis for funding would be unacceptable.

"Most television programmes should be paid for by carrying adverts, charging subscriptions or on a pay-per- view basis. If this works for Game Of Thrones, there is no reason it wouldn't work for Doctor Who."

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