A BBC boss has threatened to axe TV shows unless the corporation gets its way in forthcoming negotiations over the future of the TV licence fee.
Danny Cohen, the BBC’s director of television, said they may have to cut entire services if the government goes ahead with plans to decriminalise non-payment of the fee. He also threatened the government over plans to scrap the fee entirely for the over-75s.
Critics, however, have accused him of “holding viewers to ransom” with the threat.
Around 3,000 people a week appear in court after failing to pay the fee – which is compulsory for all households in Britain that own a TV – accounting for around a tenth of all cases before magistrates. Between 50 and 70 people a year are jailed for the offence.
Now MPs want to make non-payment a civil matter, rather than a criminal offence, and are expected to push for the change as the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal. They have a powerful ally in the form of John Whittingdale, the new Culture Secretary, who is a long-time critic of the corporation.
However, Cohen – who earns £327,000 a year – said such a change will make it much more difficult for the BBC to collect revenue from viewers. According to the Daily Mail, he told a conference of TV executives in London:
“If the BBC takes on more financial obligations, it’s got less money to spend on content. It’s as simple as that.
“If we took on one of those things – decriminalisation or over-75’s licence fees – we’d just make fewer programmes, and that is something I think none of us want to do.
“It may also mean fewer services. So we have to be aware of that in all those negotiations [with the Government], and I think that anything that makes the BBC unable to commission great content, and quality content, can’t be good for licence fee payers.”
MPs took his words as an attack, with Conservative Andrew Percy saying: “This sounds like a threat rather than a reasoned argument in favour of the licence fee. Viewers shouldn’t be held to ransom in this way.”