Edinburgh TV festival: BBC braced for attacks on its digital licence fee

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The Independent Online
THE QUESTION of whether the BBC should receive a licence fee for digital television threatens to dominate this weekend's Edinburgh Television Festival, industry executives said yesterday.

"We are braced for a series of attacks on the licence fee from commercial television," a BBC executive said, "both at conference sessions and behind the scenes, at parties and in the bars."

Edinburgh is television's biggest annual event, bringing together industry bosses for a three-day discussion on the state of British television and itsprospects. "It is often an excuse for the rest of the industry to indulge in a bit of BBC bashing, and this year will be no exception," said one delegate.

The BBC is expected to face criticism at a conference session entitled "BBC - can it do it all?", scheduled for tomorrow morning. It will question whether the BBC is "the trailblazer the UK needs or whether it is squandering licence-payers' money on fanciful jaunts into new technologies while core standards fall", according to the conference organisers.

Insiders explained that the industry's internal economy has been held together for years by a tacit agreement between the BBC and the commercial sector that they would all support the licence fee as a source of funding. But the recent recommendation by the government-appointed Davies Committee for a digital licence fee of pounds 19 a year is threatening that agreement, say insiders such as the head of Carlton, Clive Jones.

One delegate said: "Carlton, Sky, Granada and the whole of the commercial sector are furious and Edinburgh provides the ideal forum to vent some of their anger."

In his McTaggart lecture to the festival, the head of ITV,Richard Eyre, referred to the seriousness of the issue.

Mr Eyre, who was a runner-up to Greg Dyke as the new director general of the BBC, said he saw the breaking down of the consensus over the licence fee as the BBC's top priority, ahead of the low morale crisis or sports rights. At the same time the BBC is expected to receive flak for a poorly performing BBC1.

Tomorrow morning, the BBC1 controller, Peter Salmon, will be interrogated on the issue by the Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys.

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