David Cameron’s newly appointed culture secretary John Whittingdale, previously the Conservative chair of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told an audience last year on a Bafta panel that the BBC licence fee is “worse than the poll tax” and “unsustainable.”
The licence fee is a flat charge set by the Government and paid by everyone in the UK who watches or records TV programmes. Between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, the cost was £145.50, or the equivalent of £12.13 per month.
Whittingdale, who replaces fellow Conservative Sajid Javid in the role, said on the Bafta panel last October that the structure of the licence fee needed to be tweaked in order to take the wealth of viewers and different viewing habits into account. He also questioned whether failure to pay the licence fee should be a criminal offence, as it currently is under the Communications Act 2003.
He said, according to The Telegraph:
“You then have the question of whether or not it should remain a flat poll tax, collected through some fairly draconian measures, and whether it should still be criminally enforceable…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.”
The comments are unlikely to go down well at the BBC, which has already been obliged to make cuts of 20% as a result of a six-year freeze to the licence fee from 2010. Although he made clear in his speech that he believes the status quo is only unsustainable “over 20-50 years,” there will be fears that Whittingdale’s appointments hints at further pain to come.
However, it is better news for the BBC’s commercial rivals which have long complained of the exorbitant privilege granted to the broadcaster due to the licence fee. Broker Liberum thinks the move could be a plus for ITV “as the BBC could be a much less aggressive competitor for audiences moving forwards” as it is forced to scale back.
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