Boris Johnson’s administration may be serious about taking on the BBC, with sources revealing plans to scrap the compulsory television licence which funds it.
At present, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) receives the bulk of its money by levying a compulsory £154.50 licence fee on anyone who watches live colour television — whether or not they consume BBC programming — or BBC iPlayer, with non-payment a criminal offence punished by fines which must be paid on pain of imprisonment.
Some discounts are available for special cases — for example, the blind are entitled to 50 per cent off — and the increasingly negligible portion of the viewing public who use a black and white television set are charged a smaller fee of £52 a year.
But the corporation, which got its start on television at a time when there were no private broadcasters, has come under increasing fire in recent years, with accusations that its current affairs output is biased and its entertainment output politically slanted.
Now, after years of ineffectual grumbling on the issue, the Conservative Party may finally be taking robust action, with Downing Street sources telling The Sunday Times that the Government intends to scrap the ad hoc television tax in favour of a Netflix-style subscription model.
It also wants to force the closure of most of its 61 radio stations — with only the classical music and current affairs oriented Radio 3 and Radio 4 protected — and drop some of its ten television channels, while scaling down its website and investing more in its World Service.
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— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) September 22, 2019
“We are not bluffing on the licence fee,” a Downing Street source told the newspaper.
“We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has to be a subscription model. They’ve got hundreds of radio stations, they’ve got all these TV stations and a massive website. The whole thing needs massive pruning back.
“They should have a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and massively curtailed online presence and put more money and effort into the World Service, which is part of its core job.”
Perhaps most worryingly of all for old hands at the corporation are rumours the Government wants to ban their staff from “cashing in” on their publicly-funded profiles by taking lucrative outside work.
“It’s an outrage that people who make their profile at public expense should seek to give themselves further financial rewards and personal gain,” a source suggested.
“They’re basically making their names on the taxpayer and then cashing in. The BBC should immediately halt this practice and give the money to good causes.”
The BBC reform efforts will be led by former culture secretary John Whittingdale, whose remit from Downing Street was reportedly summarised as “Mission: attack”.
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