Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Must Learn to Share the TV Licence Fee Cake

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BBC Must Learn to Share the TV Licence Fee Cake

Article excerpt

Byline: Roy Greenslade

THE BBC's greatest fear looks as if it is to become reality. If the reports of it losing its sole right to the TV licence fee prove true - and the evidence pointing in that direction has been mounting for months - then it will be a severe blow to the Corporation's director-general, Mark Thompson, and his executive staff.

It will also anger the BBC Trust's chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, and his fellow trustees. They, like almost everyone connected to the BBC, believe that licence fee income should fund only the Corporation.

As a convinced supporter of public service broadcasting, I have long taken a similar view. So I sympathise with the BBC as it faces the likelihood of losing [pounds sterling]100 million from its budget if the Government institutes the "top slicing" proposal.

But even the BBC concedes that there must be plurality in public service broadcasting and it is clear that, faced by the virtual meltdown of its major commercial rivals, the Government has little alternative but to spread the licence fee largesse around. Unless it does so, the BBC would end up as the only public service broadcasting provider.

ITV has been gradually shedding itself of its public service obligations for years. It has all but abandoned its former commitment to regional news programmes, for example, and its children's programming is negligible. As for Channel 4, which is dealing with a looming financial crisis that threatens its very existence, it has threatened to take the axe to public service programming.

If the commercial broadcasters cannot, or will not, fund public service programmes then there is no way the Government can force them to do so. The mechanism of compulsion was all very well during those long-gone days when ITV companies could be terrified by the prospect of losing their licences.

Now the Government has a very different fear. If it pushes too hard there is a very real possibility of Britain's traditional commercial broadcasters going out of business. …

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