Hands off our BBC, viewers tell Jowell

Thousands of members of the public have contacted the Government to say they want the BBC to continue as a public broadcaster funded by the licence system.

Thousands of members of the public have contacted the Government to say they want the BBC to continue as a public broadcaster funded by the licence system.

Only about one-tenth of the 5,500 people who responded to a government consultation wanted the licence fee scrapped. The replies make it a near certainty the BBC's charter will be renewed when it expires next year.

About 70 per cent were broadly favourable to the BBC and about 20 per cent hostile. But hostile responses divided equally between those who resented paying the licence fee and those who accused the BBC of dumbing down, and wanted a return to its old values.

However, the favourable responses included a large number of complaints about the lack of variety in the BBC's choice of repeats, with too many old episodes of Dad's Army or Only Fools and Horses. Copycat "makeover" programmes were also a popular target for criticism.

Fears for the future of the corporation peaked during its dispute with Downing Street over the Today programme's allegations that intelligence reports had been "sexed up" to bolster the case for the war in Iraq. It was rumoured that the Government might seek to take revenge by abolishing the TV licence. But the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, has privately insisted she wants to avoid having a political dispute about the BBC's future before a general election. She is due to publish a Green Paper early next year.

Lord Burns, a former permanent secretary to the Treasury, is working on a report into issues facing the BBC, including funding, competitiveness and how it is run. The role of the BBC governors came under criticism during the dispute with Downing Street, which ended in the resignations of the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies, and director-general, Greg Dyke.

Ms Jowell has said publicly that the BBC's future as an independent public service broadcaster is not under threat, despite the promptings of some Labour MPs.

On the same day that Lord Hutton delivered his report into the death of the government scientist Dr David Kelly, the source of Today's allegations, one New Labour MP called for the BBC to be sold off. Sion Simon, a former political adviser and newspaper columnist, asked during Prime Minister's Questions: "As we now learn that the enemy within turns out to be the BBC, had we not better privatise it sooner rather than later?"

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