Relected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set his sights on the publicly funded British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), promising a slew of changes in the mechanisms that previously guaranteed the broadcaster immunity from fiscal accountability.
The BBC is commercial-free and funded by the compulsory licence fee, payment of which is legally required from all those who watch live television, even if they do not watch the BBC, or iPlayer.
Failure to pay the licence fee can result in a £1,000 ($1300) fine, a court appearance, prosecution, and even imprisonment.
During the election campaign, Johnson threatened to take the BBC’s licence fee away as he called into question its status as a publicly funded broadcaster.
The prime minister suggested the licence fee, which is guaranteed to continue until at least 2027, was a general tax that could no longer be justified when other media organisations had found other ways of funding themselves.
The BBC has already pleaded it will have at least £200M ($267M) less to spend on TV shows if the incoming government makes good on threats to decriminalize non-payment of the fee.
Johnson was asked last week if the licence fee “still makes sense,” and now his government has said it is going to look into sweeping away criminal sanctions for people who watch television but do no pay the £154.50 impost.
“That is something the prime minister has said we will look at, and has instructed people to look at that,” Rishi Sunak, chief secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) August 31, 2019
The thought of intense scrutiny of its budget has caused panic in the corridors of the public broadcaster.
In a statement addressing the matter, the BBC warned that decriminalizing non-payment of the licence fee would mean it has “at least £200M less to spend on programs and services our audiences love.”
A spokesperson added: “The government has already commissioned a QC to take an in-depth look at this matter and he found that ‘the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained’ and that it is fair and value for money to licence fee payers.”
As Breitbart London reported, broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has warned that the mandatory TV tax that funds the BBC is at risk of being undermined because young people are “tuning out” because they find the broadcaster irrelevant.
For the first time, fewer than half (49 per cent) of Britons aged 16 to 24 say that they watch the BBC’s television programmes even a minimum of once a week, according to the regulator’s report.
Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings is known to be a strong critic of the BBC, its arcane funding model and its output. He is particularly dismissive of the Today programme, which he argues operates in a metropolitan bubble out of touch with the rest of the country.
Downing Street also attacked Channel 4’s election coverage after it replaced Johnson with an ice sculpture when he refused to take part in a leaders’ debate on the climate crisis.