Letter : Licence fee is low-cost way to quality TV

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The Independent Online
Sir: Polly Toynbee (27 August) makes three errors in assuming that I advocate subscription funding replacing the licence fee simply in order to benefit Sky.

First, I have been arguing the subscription case for 14 years, long before I joined Sky. It is the most efficient, most honest and most flexible way of financing the BBC as a public service broadcaster, especially in the multi-channel age. Far from shedding "crocodile tears" over jailing licence evaders, I believe such actions to be unnecessary and deeply damaging to the BBC.

Second, it is not obvious why it is in Sky's interest for the BBC to act more commercially in pricing and selling its services. Indeed, a BBC freed from the constraints and odium of the licence fee might well provide the competitor to Sky for which your newspaper has so often called.

Third, Sky's chief executive has supported an immediate increase in the licence fee if the BBC was having trouble making ends meet on its pounds 2bn a year income.

The spread of digital television will eventually make a compulsory licence fee anomalous. The BBC should embrace that prospect and prepare now for the post-licence-fee future.

DAVID ELSTEIN

Head of Programming

British Sky Broadcasting

Isleworth, Middlesex

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