David Prosser: Cut the Beeb's funding, don't share it out

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The Independent Online

Outlook Whatever you think about the BBC – and newspapers such as The Independent have every reason to complain about the taxpayer-funded broadcaster's unfair advantages over the commercial media – it is difficult to defend the proposal to top-slice its licence fee income.

Did Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, really need to commission independent research to back his assertion yesterday that most licence fee-payers would rather see a reduction in their bills than a transfer of some of their money to commercial broadcasters, as the Government is currently proposing?

Given the number of people who resent paying a licence fee that funds the BBC, the idea that the viewing and listening public should also be forced to subsidise some commercial broadcasting activities is hardly likely to be a popular one.

Nor should it be. If ministers think the BBC receives more income than it really needs, then cut the cost of the licence fee. The people who pay it haven't signed up to support other broadcasters, however worthy they may be, and top-slicing undermines the principle of a hypothecated tax paid specifically to support a non-commercial broadcaster, which is what the licence fee actually is.

Anyway, why are children's programmes and regional news – the services to which the Government proposes transferring the excess income – any more deserving of a subsidy than other struggling areas of broadcasting? In fact, why is broadcasting more entitled to support than other areas of the media?

If ministers are in the mood for sharing out the BBC's over-generous funding, there are plenty of us out here who would consider ourselves equally worthy cases.