Boris to Consider Abolishing BBC Television Tax

QUEDGELEY, GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 09: British Prime Minister and Conservative leader Boris Johnson speaks at a general election campaign rally on December 9, 2019 in Quedgeley, near Gloucester, England. The U.K will go to the polls in a general election on December 12. (Photo by Ben Stansall - WPA …
Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has questioned whether taxing everyone who has a television to fund the BBC is justifiable, saying that a new Conservative government would look into scrapping the TV licence fee.

Prime Minister Johnson made the comments during a rally in Sunderland on Monday, saying he was “certainly looking at it”.

He continued: “You have to ask yourself if that kind of approach to funding a media organisation still makes sense on the long-term given the way other organisations manage to fund themselves?”

“The system by funding out of what is effectively a general tax on everybody who has a TV, it bears reflection, let me put it that way. How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of channels?” he added.

The television licence costs £154.50 a year and will stay in place until at least 2027 when the BBC Royal Charter expires. Those who watch live television and do not have a TV licence — regardless of whether they watch the BBC or not — are liable to financial penalties, with unpaid fines being escalated to a court appearance, possible prosecution, and even imprisonment.

The BBC had agreed in 2015 to accept responsibility for funding over-75s’ free television licence which had before been covered by the government. However, the broadcaster, which brings in £3.6 billion annually from taxing television owners, now says it cannot afford to do so.

Mr Johnson criticised the BBC for denying senior citizens exemption from the tax, saying: “I certainly think the BBC should cough up and pay for the over-75s licence fee as they promised to do.”

The BBC came under criticism from MPs during a Commons committee meeting in July after a representative of the broadcaster confirmed that “outreach” officers would be visiting old peoples’ homes to remind them that from June 2020, they will have to pay the TV tax.  Lawmakers compared the procedures to the punitive visitations that enforcement offers made to licence fee avoiders and said that such calls could be distressing for seniors.

— BBC panics as younger Britons switch off —

A report has revealed that young people are abandoning the BBC in favour of online subscriptions, putting into question whether the licence fee is justifiable in future.

The Times reported on Tuesday that an internal BBC document admitted that youth viewership is “dangerously close to the brink” with fewer than half of 16- 34-year-olds watching the BBC channels in any given week. The leaked document also revealed that the fall is not being offset by younger Britons watching the BBC’s iPlayer online.

“Quality has maintained and iPlayer has grown, so declines are not being driven by a lack of quality,” the document said. “But iPlayer is failing to make up for our losses and our output is not standing up well enough to tough international competition.”

Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom warned in October that if young people do not view the BBC as a core part of their viewing, then “public support for the licence fee could become eroded” and the “BBC may not be sustainable in its current form”.


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