Tories would constrain BBC to 'core broadcasting'

The BBC will be forced to stick to "core broadcasting" if the Conservatives take government, the party's culture spokesman said today.

Jeremy Hunt said the £142.50 licence fee could be frozen and BBC executives' salaries capped at £192,250, less than a quarter of director-general Mark Thompson's current wage.

Mr Hunt told the Daily Mail the salaries seemed "way out of proportion" in an era of belt-tightening.

The corporation's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, would be limited to promoting products overseas and Mr Hunt said parts of it might be sold off.

It could be worth more than £1 billion, he said, adding that any revenue would be welcome when national debt was high and the government was facing severe public spending constraints.

He attacked BBC Worldwide's recent acquisition of Lonely Planet travel guides, saying nobody could understand how it related to the BBC's "core purposes".

"We would certainly make clear our concerns over the scope of the BBC's commercial activity in any discussions over its future, for example decisions over the licence fee settlement," he said.

"We would want a clear understanding of how the BBC was going to rein in its commercial activities."

Mr Hunt said the party did not want the BBC to make less good quality family entertainment and added: "But do we want the BBC to constrain its ambition beyond that core broadcasting? Absolutely."

The Conservative proposals could also make the BBC scale back its online presence and scrap channels like BBC3 and BBC4 with low audiences.

The BBC Trust's future was plunged further into doubt as Mr Hunt said licence fee payers needed to be able to complain to a "wholly independent" body.

He said the trust had become a "corporate champion" and if it was scrapped, Ofcom might be an alternative.

The proposals come just two days after Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw also called for the BBC's governing body to be scrapped and said the corporation had probably reached the limits of "reasonable expansion".

In a speech to the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention, Mr Bradshaw said the BBC Trust was not sustainable in the long term as "both regulator and cheerleader".

He also said there may be a case for a smaller licence fee and that there should be a far-reaching public debate about the corporation's structure.

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