Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the BBC must remain editorially independent to continue producing “world class news”.
Speaking in an interview with Andrew Marr yesterday, Hunt also indicated some change was needed to the licence fee:
We’ll be having discussions over the future of the licence fee, the next licence fee settlement next year, in which I’ll be talking to Mark and the BBC management in a lot of detail. And I do want the BBC to demonstrate that when it comes to their management pay, they’re on the same planet as everyone else because of the economic inheritance that we’re facing. Government ministers are having to be careful with every single penny of taxpayers’ money and the BBC does need to show that it’s careful with every penny of licence fee payers’ money as well.
But he added that the government support the idea of a similar stream of revenue continuing:
Well what we’ve said very clearly is that we accept the principle of the licence fee, which is the idea if you like of a household tax to fund public service broadcasting that is ring-fenced, and we think that one of the reasons we have some of the best TV and broadcasting in the world in this country is because we have these different streams of income including the licence fee, including subscription income and including advertising. Now the way we collect it may have to be rethought because technology is changing, a lot of people are watching TV on their PCs. We’re not going to introduce a PC licence fee and that is something that I do need to have discussions with the BBC to see what their ideas are.
Marr also asked Hunt for a response to the news that Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond had purchased Channel Five. Hunt said the news was “encouraging”:
Well what people need to remember about that is that the regulations over what broadcasters can do are much stricter than over people who run newspapers and magazines. And it was a Conservative government that founded Channel Five in 1997. Indeed Conservative governments have actually been responsible for most of the big changes in broadcasting. We founded ITV and Four and did the Sky and satellite and cable revolution as well. But what I think is encouraging is that one of the first things that Richard Desmond said was that he was committed to Five’s future as a public service broadcaster.