Cameron would freeze BBC fee

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Indy Politics

Conservative leader David Cameron today said he would freeze the BBC television licence fee for a year to set an example to others in the current tough economic times.

Cameron said his party would "vigorously" oppose the government's plan to increase the fee from £139.50 to £142.50 for those who own a colour TV set, which is due to take effect this April.

The national public broadcaster is funded by an annual licence fee which is paid by every television-watching household.

Cameron, who called the BBC one of Britain's "most important national institutions," said he was a supporter of the licence fee system but that the broadcaster needed to keep costs in check as others tightened their belts.

"I am announcing today that we would freeze the BBC licence fee for one year and we will be challenging the government over this in parliament," he told his monthly news conference.

"Doing that would be an important signal of the need for all public institutions in these difficult times to do more with less."

The nature of the BBC funding is a source of anger for some competitors who argue it gives an unfair advantage over commercial rivals who have seen audiences and advertisers move to more niche digital channels and the Internet.

Britain's biggest commercial free-to-air broadcaster ITV posted an annual loss of 2.7 billion pounds earlier this month, saying its advertising revenues had slumped, forcing it to cut 600 jobs and sell assets.

In 2007, the BBC agreed to an annual rise in funding of no more than three percent over a six-year period, which was less than it hoped for. Cameron said that future BBC rises should also be reviewed.

"Other broadcasters are having an incredibly difficult time," he said.

"There's a danger if you don't do what we are suggesting you will get a system that is out of balance."

The BBC itself has predicted difficult times ahead because of the tough economic climate. In 2007, it said it would cut 2,500 jobs as part of cost-cutting measures.