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DUP would end licence fee for BBC

By Nigel Dodds

Published 28/04/2015

Nigel Dodds is the DUP candidate in North Belfast
Nigel Dodds is the DUP candidate in North Belfast

Whoever is Prime Minister after May 7 and whichever parties end up supporting him, the next government is unlikely to have a large majority. But this doesn't have to be a bad thing.

We can easily have a stable government. It would simply be well-advised to allow more than its own ideas to succeed in the next parliament.

Take the BBC, whose charter comes up for renewal in 18 months' time.

The Democratic Unionist Party believes the licence fee is regressive and archaic. A household levy on a device now superseded by networked technology is not just obsolete, it's cruel.

Not only does this unique tax disproportionately affect young, poor women with children, it leads to an astonishing 150,000 convictions per year. You can see why both houses of parliament have voted that non-payment should be decriminalised.

It's a self-serving myth put out by the BBC that it needs the licence fee. You can defend the idea of public service broadcasting - and indeed the corporation itself - without supporting this unfair and inefficient tax.

At the moment, the BBC is simply too powerful. Well over half the UK population consumes its news primarily from the BBC. This is a dangerous concentration of influence and would be seen as such in anyone else's hands.

Its scale damages companies across the UK, particularly regional newspapers. Its opinions and behaviour need to be much more open to scrutiny by the public that pays for it.

So some modest suggestions are in order for the next government. Don't just slouch towards charter renewal with ministers cutting a backroom deal with the BBC. Do it in public - a Royal Commission, chaired by the right person, would let a lot of daylight in.

Then there's the BBC's other unique public sector feature: its exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Happily for the BBC, it rejects half the FoI requests it gets a year.

Change the law: oblige it to certify that a rejected request directly relates to ongoing, investigative journalism. These don't have to be government ideas, but they should be capable of emerging out of the next, open-minded parliament.

Nigel Dodds is the DUP candidate in North Belfast

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