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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

BBC reform options to be set out by the UK government

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Options for sweeping reforms to the funding and operation of the BBC will be set out by the UK government in the latest stage of the battle over the renewal of the broadcaster’s royal charter.

A Green Paper being published by the UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale will consult on possible replacements for the licence fee and is expected to seek views on a narrowing of its range of programming to focus on public service shows not chasing ratings.

Some in government are reported to favour scrapping the rolling news channel, scaling back its website and cutting expensive entertainment shows such as The Voice.

Mr Whittingdale has appointed an eight-person panel to work on the renewal of the BBC’s royal charter – which sets out the corporation’s remit – which runs out at the end of next year.

Members of the advisory group include former Channel 5 boss Dawn Airey, who has previously called for the licence fee to be cut and for the broadcaster to consider charging for its website, and former Ofcom chairwoman Colette Bowe.

Ms Bowes’ inclusion fuelled speculation that the Green Paper will propose that the independent regulator could take over the role of the BBC Trust in overseeing the corporation, a move George Osborne has signalled that he favours.

The UK Chancellor has also criticised the BBC website for “becoming a bit more imperial in its ambitions” in a hint at possible moves to scale it back to protect newspapers.

BBC director-general Tony Hall said this week that the charter debate was “shaping up to be a clash between two different views of the future” and criticised plans to reduce the corporation’s commercial activity.

He said audiences do not want “a significantly smaller BBC” and the public’s voice “will matter most in this debate”.

He faced criticism for accepting a Government deal that saw the corporation take responsibility for funding free TV licences for the over-75s – offset by the chance to charge in future for the use of catch-up services via the online iPlayer.

James Bond actor Daniel Craig, veteran broadcaster David Attenborough, author JK Rowling, comedian Miranda Hart and presenter Chris Evans were among A-list stars who signed a letter this week urging UK Prime Minister David Cameron to protect the BBC.

Describing the BBC as “the envy of the world”, they appealed to the PM to ensure the Government does not “turn it into a narrowly focused market-failure broadcaster”.

“A diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain. Like all organisations, it has its faults but it is overwhelmingly a creative force for good,” the letter said.

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