Tony Hall: The debate over BBC licence fee is ‘damaging’ says DG as he takes on Lord Grade over criticisms
Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC, is set to issue a stinging rebuke to the corporation’s former chairman Michael Grade and other critics of the organisation’s licence fee funding model.
In a speech to the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, Lord Hall is planning to respond to claims made by Lord Grade that the BBC should be made to share the licence fee with Channel 4.
Lord Hall will argue that the idea of “contestable” licence fee funding would be destabilising and damaging to the British television industry as a whole.
“In the anxiety to privatise the BBC, this proposal suggests nationalising the rest of the sector,” he will tell an audience of media executives at the Said Business School, University of Oxford, on Wednesday. “But, most importantly, the fragmentation of the licence fee risks de-stabilising a broadcasting model that works. A model that is based on competition for quality – but not funding – between public and private broadcasters.”
In his speech, Lord Hall will note that his battle to protect the BBC’s licence fee funding beyond 2016 is no longer simply threatened by critics who argue it should be scrapped.
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“Instead of saying that the licence fee is so bad that no one should have it, they have begun to suggest that the licence fee is so good that everyone should have it. They say the licence fee should be competed for and allocated to a range of providers,” he will say.
“What purpose would this serve? Would it make the BBC more responsive and accountable? We are not a monopoly supplier of Public Service Broadcasting. We are subject to intense competition in a market where consumers can easily switch between providers. Would contestable funding mean more choice for audiences? Audiences have never had a greater, richer amount of media choice."
Lord Grade made his criticisms of the BBC’s current structure earlier this month as he was called to give evidence to MPs about the corporation’s future. In radical proposals, he suggested that the BBC should abandon in-house production of all genres except news and current affairs and that Channel 4 should be allowed to support itself by competing for a slice of the licence fee.
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In his speech, Lord Hall will argue that commercially-funded public service broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4 are capable of supporting themselves. “ITV has just agreed new 10-year licences with its national and regional news commitments intact, despite no public money. Channel 4 has announced a record level of investment in original UK content,” he will say. “There’s a clear risk of public funding substituting for activity that would have happened anyway.”
The freezing of the licence fee at £145.50 in 2010 led to the BBC having to make savings that included 2,000 job cuts. Lord Hall will acknowledge on Wednesday that continued licence fee funding is dependent on the BBC demonstrating that its money is “well spent”.
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