The man now in charge of overseeing the future of the BBC has previously called the TV license fee “unsustainable” and compared it to the poll tax. John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, is a long-time opponent of the state broadcaster and has said the compulsory license fee should eventually come to an end.
He said last October: “It’s actually worse than a poll tax because under the poll tax, if you were on a very low income you would get a considerable subsidy. The BBC licence fee, there is no means-tested element whatsoever; it doesn’t matter how poor you are, you pay £145.50 and go to prison if you don’t pay it.”
He added: “I think in the longer term we are potentially looking at reducing at least a proportion of the licence fee that is compulsory and offering choice … When I say it’s unsustainable I am talking about over 20-50 years.”
While he is unlikely to abolish the license fee outright during his time as Culture Secretary, he will take a tougher line on the state broadcaster which is supposed to be politically impartial but has frequently faced accusations of left-wing bias.
Whittingdale previously chaired the House of Commons Media Select Committee which in February released a report calling for the abolition of the BBC Trust, the board responsible for regulation and oversight.
He said at the time: “The trust has failed to meet expectations and should be abolished. It remains far too close to the BBC and blurs accountability rather than it being a sharp and effective overseer of the BBC’s performance as a public service institution … An organisation of the size and cost of the BBC must be subject to the most rigorous independent scrutiny.”
His appointment has already been described as a “declaration of war”, with the BBC’s press office responding by retweeting (and then quickly deleting) a tweet slamming Whittingdale for voting against gay marriage and the hunting ban.
More cabinet appointments are expected later today.