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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 March 2006, 19:22 GMT
BBC plans attacked for 'TV tax'
The charter is being renewed for another 10 years
Television viewers face a "TV tax" as the government forces them to pay for the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, say opposition parties.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems mounted the attack as ministers unveiled their plans for renewing the BBC's charter.

Tory spokesman Hugo Swire said the government was set to keep 2bn-5bn from selling off the analogue spectrum, but the cost would be met by taxpayers.

The government says everyone will gain from the switch to digital due by 2012.

The White Paper will pave the way for the renewal of the BBC's Royal Charter, which expires this year.

Digital benefits

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said the licence fee would fund the corporation for another 10 years - although negotiations on the level of the fee have yet to finish.

And the BBC governors would be replaced by a new trust which is intended to be more removed from the corporation's management and more accountable to licence fee payers.

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Sales of Freeview and other digital platforms have soared

The government says all licence fee payers will benefit from the shift to digital - either from the new services available or through greater digital terrestrial coverage.

But Mr Swire said the plans had failed to grasp the challenges of 21st Century broadcasting.

He asked Ms Jowell: "Isn't the BBC Trust proposed by you nothing more than the BBC governors in another building - just as cosy, but twice the rent?"

Mr Swire said the BBC would remain unchecked and unrestrained as long as it was still able to ignore broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

"The BBC is a unique organisation in a unique position and because of that we must ensure that that position is not abused to the detriment of other broadcasters or the viewing and listening public," he argued.

Mr Swire said Chancellor Gordon Brown was "hell bent" on keeping 2bn-5bn from selling off the analogue spectrum when all households have to switch to digital broadcasting.

But the costs of the switchover will be met from the licence fee in what Mr Swire called the "stealthiest of stealth taxes" - a "TV tax".

Government proposals ensure the BBC is still to be its own judge and jury
Don Foster
Lib Dem culture spokesman

His criticisms were echoed by Lib Dem culture spokesman Don Foster.

"Today's proposals that TV viewers, not government, pay for the government's policy of digital switchover is a TV licence fee 'smash and grab'," said Mr Foster.

Mr Foster also renewed Lib Dem calls for a single regulator to cover all public service broadcasting, including the BBC.

He argued: "If the BBC Trust is to be the 'sovereign body within the BBC' how can it also be the regulator of the BBC?

"Government proposals ensure the BBC is still to be its own judge and jury."

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