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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Jowell 'rejects' BBC funding shake-up
Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary
Jowell: Privatising BBC is not an option
The BBC will continue to be funded by the television licence fee for the next 15 years, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has signalled.

Ms Jowell said the prospect of funding the corporation without the licence fee lay "somewhere between the improbable and the impossible".

In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper she appeared to rule out a radical overhaul in the BBC's funding.

Her comments sparked fury from shadow culture secretary, Tim Yeo, who branded them "absolutely astonishing".

Tim Yeo, shadow culture secretary
Yeo: Last decade seen 'radical' changes in broadcasting
The BBC is overwhelmingly funded by the 2.3bn a year it receives from TV households paying a 109 licence fee.

This is secure until 2006 when the corporation's current charter expires.

The government has indicated that between 2004 and end of the current charter it will consider alternative funding.

Options could include privatisation, subscription charges for viewers or turning the BBC into a mutual society.

But Ms Jowell's comments indicate the government will not pursue these, favouring the renewal of the charter for a further 10 years.

Ms Jowell told the newspaper she is proud of the BBC as a trusted broadcaster and the role it played in the Queen's Golden Jubilee.

Opposition critical

"When I say that this is a no holds barred charter renewal, it's a renewal not a deconstruction [of the BBC]," she said.

"The prospect of the UK without the BBC funded by the licence fee is anywhere between improbable to impossible because the BBC is one of the most loved and trusted UK institutions."


The present licence fee is effectively a TV tax and it's an odd one because everyone has to pay it even if they never watch the BBC

Tim Yeo
But Ms Jowell said she did not want to predict the outcome of a study which would involve widespread consultation with media executives.

Her comments infuriated Mr Yeo, who said they made a mockery of the impending review of the charter.

"In the 10 years since the last charter renewal the whole television and broadcasting sector has changed radically," he told the newspaper.

"To simply dismiss the alternative possibilities before the debate has taken place not only shows a closed mind but may also work against the interests of viewers and broadcasters."

Pay for view

Mr Yeo told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The present licence fee is effectively a TV tax and it's an odd one because everyone has to pay it even if they never watch the BBC or listen to the radio programmes."

One alternative to the current system might be a lower licence fee with viewers being able to tap into BBC programmes on either a subscription or pay for view basis, he said.

"Imagine what this would do for the BBC. It would open up all sorts of opportunities that have been up to now denied it.

"They are constantly constrained by the terms of the present charter," he added.

Jocelyn Hay, chairwoman of the Voice of the Listeners and Viewers Association, welcomed Ms Jowell's words.

"It is absolutely essential that we keep the stability of the BBC and its funding in place," she said.

A BBC spokesman said: "We welcome the secretary of state's continuing support for the licence fee, which we believe is the best way of funding the BBC."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Torin Douglas
"Ms Jowell said the BBC was one of the most loved and trusted UK institutions"

In DepthIN DEPTH
Broadcasting
Charting its past, present and digital future
See also:

05 Jun 02 | Entertainment
22 Jan 02 | Entertainment
07 Dec 01 | Entertainment
15 Oct 01 | Entertainment
01 Oct 01 | Politics
13 Sep 01 | Entertainment
04 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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