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Tue, 31 March 2020

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Downing Street steps up war with the BBC with threat licence fee 'will be scrapped'

Downing Street steps up war with the BBC with threat licence fee 'will be scrapped'
3 min read

Downing Street is reportedly ramping up its war with the BBC as it vows to scrap the television licence fee and make viewers pay a subscription instead.


The Sunday Times reports that the broadcaster could also be forced to sell off most of its radio stations, trim its website and foot more of the bill for the BBC World Service under a radical overhaul being drawn up by Number 10.

The move follows the appointment of longstanding BBC critic John Whittingdale as a minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

DCMS is already consulting on plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee - the compulsory levy that funds the BBC's work, and ministers have been banned from appearing on the broadcaster's flagship morning interview programme 'Today'.

One source said Mr Whittingdale, a longstanding former chair of the Commons culture committee, had been told by Number 10 to lead "Mission: attack".

And a senior source told the Sunday Times: "We are not bluffing on the licence fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has to be a subscription model. They’ve got hundreds of radio stations, they’ve got all these TV stations and a massive website. The whole thing needs massive pruning back.

"They should have a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and massively curtailed online presence and put more money and effort into the World Service, which is part of its core job."

But speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge programme, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged caution over the "unattributed  comments", but he added: "Here are the facts we know; the world is changing, we live in a sort-of Netflix world, where people more and more put on the TV when they want to and watch what they want, when they want.

"So, the BBC has to change."

The warning comes after BBC chairman Sir David Clementi launched an impassioned defence of the licence fee, warning that putting the BBC's services behind a subscription paywall could make it hard to "bring the country together".

He said: "The BBC is a great national asset; a diminished BBC is a weakened United Kingdom.

"Sitting behind a paywall, it would no longer be the place that brings the country together for the Strictly final, or Gavin & Stacey on Christmas Day, or the Armistice Anniversary or Holocaust Memorial.

"Nor would it be the place that all could turn to celebrate live important moments we enjoy as a nation: Royal weddings or jubilees, or Olympic successes."

But a Number 10 source rejected that argument, telling the Sunday Times: "The BBC is making a wonderful case for the importance of the BBC; if the people of this country agree, they’ll subscribe."

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