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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK


Public debate on BBC funding

Plans for a digital licence fee have provoked hostility

By Media Correspondent Torin Douglas

Viewers and listeners have been invited to air their views on BBC funding following hostile reactions to plans for a "digital licence fee" and privatisation of parts of the corporation.

The government has invited the public - and broadcasting organisations - to air their views on the report on BBC funding by the independent panel, chaired by the economist Gavyn Davies.

[ image:
"Digital poll tax" attacked by commercial broadcasters
Launching the public consultation Culture Secretary Chris Smith said: "The government wants everyone who watches television or listens to the radio - as well as those in the industry and consumer groups - to have the opportunity to comment on the future funding of the BBC."

He said he hoped there would be "a vigorous debate" and these responses would be taken into account when the government considered the panel's review in November.

The closing date for responses is 1 November.

MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee will also be conducting hearings into the review, and their report will be taken into account before ministers take any decisions.

In particular, the government says it wants to hear:

  • How people think the BBC should be funded, in order to maintain its status as the UK's principal public service broadcaster well into the digital age.

  • How its ethos of public service can be maintained in the face of the need to exploit its commercial assets more vigorously.

  • Whether there should be changes to the system of concessions on the licence fee, which currently benefit elderly people in sheltered housing.

Report attacked

The immediate reactions to the report, within hours of its publication, were generally hostile. The BBC, while welcoming the panel's endorsement of its 'digital vision', regretted it had not proposed a sufficient increase in the Corporation's funding to carry it out.

And its director general Sir John Birt said the main proposals were "not in the best interests of the licence payer".

Commercial broadcasters attacked the proposed increase in the licence fee, calling it a "digital poll tax".

The head of Carlton TV suggested it might even call into question ITV's support for licence fee. Age Concern also attacked the proposal.

Broadcasting union BECTU accused the Davies Committee of "vandalising the BBC" in its proposals to sell off BBC Resources and 49% of BBC Worldwide - and the pressure group Voice of the Listener and Viewer was equally critical.

Most newspapers also criticised the recommendations.

One exception was the Guardian, which said in a leading article "The Davies report has got most of it right", praising its "cool and laudable grasp of this complex issue".

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