Ex-Panorama man quits Tory review of BBC funding

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The Independent Online

The taskforce set up by the Conservative Party to come up with new ways of funding the BBC has been hit by the departure of a member who was seen as most sympathetic to the corporation.

Peter Ibbotson, a former editor of Panorama and ex-deputy director of programmes at the BBC, has asked for his name not to be put on the report, which is to be published next month. The news led to speculation that the team writing the report, led by David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, is set to recommend a radically pro-market way to fund the BBC.

It is thought that the study will recommend that the corporation be funded by subscription. It is understood that while Mr Ibbotson, who is now a consultant to Channel 4, supported a subscription mechanism he only did so provided it covered the BBC's entire output and not just popular programming such as sport, films and entertainment.

Mr Ibbotson, speaking from a skiing holiday in the Alps, said: "What the group was doing was extremely relevant. It was asking all the right questions.

"The question is, what form of BBC you end up with. There's a necessity for something whose motives are not pure market delivery."

Mr Ibbotson said there were different forms of subscription funding, including ones that were not based on "profit maximisation". But he said that subscription allowed the public to demonstrate its preferences. "I want a not-for-profit subscription model, so that subscription is not just a stepping stone to privatisation," he said.

The corporation's £2.5bn-a-year funding from the licence fee will come under government scrutiny ahead of the renewal of its charter in 2006.

Mr Elstein said that Mr Ibbotson was not disagreeing with the report as such, as the document does not yet exist. But he added that "nobody" else on the committee agreed with Mr Ibbotson that public service programmes, such as arts shows, would be funded by a subscription mechanism.

"People should not be forced to do things," he said referring to making subscribers pay for public service television. "There are better ways of sorting out public service broadcasting."