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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 16:33 GMT
Smith urged to 'drop digital fee'

BBC News 24 was criticised in the committee's report


Commercial broadcasters have called on the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, to throw out the proposals for a digital licence fee.

The comments follow the publication of a report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee criticising plans for a 24 top-up licence fee to fund the BBC's digital expansion.

The committee, chaired by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, looked at BBC funding following this year's report by a panel chaired by economist Gavyn Davies, which suggested an initial levy of 2 a month to finance digital services.


Chris Smith will rule on the proposals next month
As well as rejecting plans for the licence fee, the committee also criticised News 24. It praised BBC Online but suggested the operation should be run commercially.

Steve Morrison, chief executive of Granada Media Group, welcomed the report's findings on behalf of an alliance of commercial firms.

He said: "The committee members come from across the political divide and they've been in the unique position of being able to sift through all the oral and written evidence available on the issue.

"After an extensive examination of all the evidence, they've concluded that the digital licence fee should be rejected.

"We now call on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, to heed the conclusions of the select committee and throw out the idea of a digital licence fee."

Licence fee income

ITV also welcomed the findings of the committee. Chief executive Richard Eyre said: "The BBC has an annual income from the licence fee alone of 2.2bn and has not begun to persuade the public of a case for extra funding.



We wish the committee had looked in more depth at how the interests of viewers and listeners in the United Kingdom can best be served in a future likely to be dominated by pay television from global operators, and how the UK can build on its strengths in this area.
BBC Director of Corporate Affairs Colin Browne
"We believe there is scope for more investment on programmes and services for the benefit of the public from within the BBC's existing budget. It's a question of priorities."

But the BBC's director of corporate affairs, Colin Browne, expressed disappointment at the committee's findings.

He said: "We are disappointed that the main report from the committee fails to engage with the vision for public service broadcasting in the digital age put forward by the BBC.

"This is very different from the market-driven approach which seems to guide the thinking of the majority of the committee.

"As a result it has reached very different conclusions from those of the independent panel chaired by Gavyn Davies, which considered these issues in depth over several months.

"We wish the committee had looked in more depth at how the interests of viewers and listeners in the United Kingdom can best be served in a future likely to be dominated by pay television from global operators, and how the UK can build on its strengths in this area."

Labour MP David Winnick, a member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the culture committee was pursuing a "vendetta" against the BBC.

He said: "Bearing in mind those involved, this comes as no surprise.

"I have the highest regard for my colleague [Mr Kaufman, the committee chairman], but I certainly don't have the same regard for his longstanding views on the BBC."

Mr Smith is expected to rule on the proposals next month.

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20 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
MPs condemn BBC digital fee

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