Edinburgh TV festival: Public service broadcasts now doomed, says Eyre

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC SERVICE broadcasting has only a limited shelf life and "will soon be dead", Richard Eyre, the chief executive of ITV, told media figures last night.

In his keynote speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Mr Eyre argued that with the increasing number of new channels it would be impossible to continue with the present system of TV regulation.

Delivering the annual MacTaggart lecture, he proposed that the BBC and independent broadcasters should abandon the notion of public service in favour of "public interest" broadcasting. "Public service broadcasting will soon be dead because it relies on regulators who will, in time, no longer be able to do a comprehensive job, because the vast number of sources of broadcast information will be impossible to monitor," he said.

Mr Eyre said the whole basis of BBC funding is under threat because of proposals for a digital television licence fee. He said that the current licence fee relied on the support of the public and of the commercial television companies, which have now united to oppose what they regard as "the digital poll tax".

"The existence of an organised commercial alliance against the BBC is unprecedented," he said. "It's a single-issue beast right now, but it's a warning that not only is the public consensus that supports the BBC under threat, so is the corporate complicity that sustains the BBC's innate market interference."

Mr Eyre said that he saw the breaking down of the consensus over the licence fee as the BBC's top priority, ahead of the morale crisis or sports rights.

The issue of a digital licence fee threatens to dominate the festival. "We are braced for a series of attacks on the licence fee from commercial television," a BBC executive said before Mr Eyre's speech.

Another delegate said: "It is often an excuse for the rest of the industry to indulge in a bit of BBC bashing. This year will be no exception."

The corporation is also braced for strong criticism at a conference entitled "BBC - can it do it all?" scheduled for tomorrow. It is expecting flak for a poorly performing BBC1. The channel's controller, Peter Salmon, will face an interrogation by the Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys.