Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Is Ready for a Fight to Defend Licence Fee; as MPs Debate Freezing the Beeb's Income, the Corporation Says It Is Willing to Help Partners -- but Must Keep Hold of Its Cash; MEDIA ANALYSIS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Is Ready for a Fight to Defend Licence Fee; as MPs Debate Freezing the Beeb's Income, the Corporation Says It Is Willing to Help Partners -- but Must Keep Hold of Its Cash; MEDIA ANALYSIS

Article excerpt

Byline: Roy Greenslade

IT WOULD be a great surprise if the Conservative Party was to succeed today in preventing the BBC from securing a [pounds sterling]3 increase to the licence fee. The Commons vote will surely confirm the rise, to an annual [pounds sterling]142.50, so the Tory amendment, demanding that the fee be frozen at its current rate, will fail.

The six-year funding agreement underpins the BBC's editorial independence. If the Corporation were to haggle every 12 months over the size of the licence fee, it might well affect the judgments of editorial executives during negotiations. Keeping the government of the day sweet would become a requirement of the job.

Tory leader David Cameron knows that well enough. He is convinced that the BBC has too much money already, and should not have more, especially during a period without inflation. It is also a pointer to the future, should he win the general election. The next fee settlement is due in 2012, and the BBC is on his agenda. The Corporation will not get an easy ride under a Tory government.

By chance, the chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, gave a speech at the Royal Television Society last night in which he spoke about money too.

Unsurprisingly, he underlined the need to avoid an annual negotiation but much more interesting was his view on the BBC's desire to support other public service broadcasters without sacrificing a penny of the fee. This is the nub of a debate that has a long way yet to run. One of the undeniable features of the 21st-century BBC is its increasing media dominance.

Rupert Murdoch has been saying it for years. Leaving aside the fact that he has a vested interest, through his Sky TV, there are plenty of media owners around who now agree with him, particularly in the light of the BBC's growth, whether in extra TV channels, the rise of its commercial arm Worldwide and the huge resources it has devoted to the internet.

ITV has already thrown in the public service towel in the regions, and its national commitment is slight. Beleaguered Channel 4, the BBC's supposed public service rival, is desperate to find a way of picking a hole in the Corporation's pocket to share its bounty.

Commercial radio operators complain about its supremacy. Newspaper publishers, even including the historically supportive Guardian Media Group (for which I write a blog), are envious at its online success. Some magazine publishers have raised their voices too about the BBC moving on to their territory. Everywhere I go, I hear people say: "It's just too big." What they mean, especially in these recessionary times, is that it has too much money, has moved -- albeit tentatively -- into inappropriate commercial activities and simply has too many fingers in too many pies.

While sharing some of these concerns, this kind of argument is rooted in a traditionalist, even reactionary, view of media. …

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