BBC set to go against ministers by insisting 'The Voice' is in line with founding principles

'The BBC has always made and screened big, popular, entertainment shows and has a long and distinguished pedigree'

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Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC Director-General, will inflame the row between ministers and the corporation over its future by insisting that entertainment shows like The Voice remain central to the BBC’s Reithian mission.

The BBC is facing dramatic restrictions to its size and scope under “root-and-branch” reforms which could force it to scrap popular programmes like The Voice and Strictly Come Dancing.

John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary, is set to unveil a Green Paper which will examine whether the BBC has been chasing ratings at the expense of its public service obligations.

Talent show The Voice, which the BBC paid £22m to acquire the rights, is said to be in the minister’s sights.

However Lord Hall will deliver a powerful defence of the BBC’s record in popular entertainment when he launches the BBC’s Annual Report and Accounts.

Lord Hall will remind the BBC’s critics that the mission set out by its founder, Lord Reith, was to entertain, as well as to inform and educate.

Lord Hall is expected to say: “The BBC has always made and screened big, popular, entertainment shows and has a long and distinguished pedigree. Audiences tell us it’s what they want as part of the unrivalled range of programmes the BBC offers, and given the universal nature of the licence fee it’s right that we provide something for everyone.”

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Lord Hall, Director-general of the BBC

Mr Whittingdale however believes the BBC is breaching its charter principles by claiming it needs to go after 90% of viewers, using derivative entertainment formats as a means to achieve mass audiences.

Lord Hall claims that programmes such as Wolf Hall, The Missing and Poldark are examples of outstanding British programming delivered by the BBC in the last year.

BBC insiders believe licence-fee payers will back the corporation against ideologically-driven attempts to undermine it. “We think debates about the future of the BBC are healthy,” said a BBC source. “But it needs to be a well-informed debate, grounded in fact and one in which the public - the millions who watch, read or listen every day - have the biggest say.”

Lord Hall will tell staff that the BBC must get “leaner and more agile”. The Annual report will show that the introduction of a £150,000 cap on severance pay has led to a 30% fall in the total amount paid out.

However the cost of the licence fee – which has been frozen since 2010 - has fallen in real terms for the past seven years and is now 20% less (in real terms) than it was in 2007/8.

The BBC has identified a divide between Chancellor George Osborne, who recently said the BBC should make shows like Strictly Come Dancing with broad appeal and Mr Whittingdale, who wants the BBC to focus on more high-minded, public service programmes.

A BBC source said: “There is an important argument to be made about what kind of BBC we want to see in the future. Whether it is one that will provide something for everyone and be a beacon for Britain around the world - or whether it will be forced into a market failure model and weaken the UK’s creative industries.”

A board of eight advisers has been appointed by John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, to conduct a “root-and-branch” reform of the Corporation as part of the charter renewal.

After accepting the £725m annual cost of subsidising free licence fees for the over-75s, Lord Hall has warned of a “tough fight ahead” if the BBC is to withstand further threats. The Green Paper will review the impartiality of BBC News, the scope of the BBC website and could suggest that licence fee is scrapped altogether after 2020 and replaced by a household levy or subscription services.

Lord Hall will reiterate his view that the agreement with the Government last week to take on responsibility for the costs of TV licences for the over 75s, was the “right funding deal in difficult circumstances” which offered the BBC financial “stability” through its mitigations.

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