Media: BBC should be killed off, says Channel 5 chief

In a remarkably forthright attack, Channel 5's chief executive last night accused the Government of colluding with the BBC against the interests of viewers. Rob Brown, Media Editor, believes David Elstein's arguments for the abolition of the licence fee can only gather force.

A champagne reception was held in the famous picture gallery of Royal Holloway College in Surrey last night after David Elstein had delivered the annual Reed lecture on The Politics of Broadcasting in the New Millennium.

But no one was toasting the 75th anniversary of the BBC. For the central thesis of Mr Elstein's address was that the corporation in its present form should not survive, far less be celebrated.

It was not the first time he has expounded this argument. He started calling for the abolition of the television licence fee and for the conversion of the BBC into a subscription pay-TV system in his previous role as head of programmes at BSkyB. But he has never stated his case as strongly as he did last night in one of the oldest colleges of the University of London.

Channel 5's chief executive not only ripped into the paternalistic and imperialistic Reithian tradition at the BBC, but accused the Government of seeking to preserve a licensed state broadcaster because such an institution is easier to bully.

"New Labour is not about to abandon decades of inherited thinking, nor the levels of political control," said Mr Elstein.

"The Labour Party may call itself New Labour, but its instincts on broadcasting remain as unconvincing as ever. The Labour Party has yet to realise that, in the modern age, the consent of the consumer must come first. It is time for us to let go of nanny, and for nanny to let go of us."

Mr Elstein described the licence fee as "the last of the regressive taxes which hit the poor much harder than the rich" and forecast that it would become increasingly indefensible as the BBC's share of audience steadily fell in a multi-channel era.

Noting that the BBC's total share of viewing in multi-channel homes was less than 30 per cent, he said: "It is unimaginable that any other public service, ignored by its customers for three-quarters of the time in favour of private competitors, could continue to justify being funded by a compulsory tax on all households generating more than pounds 2bn a year."

Mr Elstein's argument will cut little ice with Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who supports the licence fee as the bedrock of the BBC and a cornerstone of British culture. But Mr Smith will not be in charge of that ministry for ever.

This danger is recognised by David Docherty, the BBC's deputy director of television, who put the case for keeping the licence fee at Policy Studies Institute seminar on Monday.

Mr Docherty acknowledged that the BBC would probably flourish on a subscription basis, but it could not remain the world-renowned public service broadcaster it has been up to now.

"If we contrive to disinvent the BBC, no other generation will be able to create the circumstances to re-invent it. And, if it does not survive, if we allow some clever bastard to argue us out of it, we should take the shame to our graves," Mr Docherty said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: By developing intimate relationships with inte...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service and Business Support Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Highly successful private company - Oundle bas...

Recruitment Genius: PA to Consultant Surgeon

£25000 - £25500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager - Franchised Dealership

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific