BBC panic: Broadcaster faces ‘spiral of decline’ as Nadine Dorries wages licence fee war

Gregory Campbell questions Nadine Dorries on TV licence fee

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The Culture Secretary has taken an aggressive view towards the BBC, and is widely anticipated to announce a two-year freeze to the licence fee this week. A source inside the BBC said: “A global Britain needs a global media company.”

Yesterday (Sunday), Ms Dorries tweeted: “This licence fee announcement will be the last.

“The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over.

“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

The Minister for Culture, Media and Sport is expected to say that the fee will now be frozen at £159 until 2024.

It is one of several policy announcements the Government is lining up as Boris Johnson attempts to regain public popularity following calls for his resignation after he last week admitted to have attending a party in the Downing Street garden during the first nationwide lockdown.

Ms Dorries has also indicated that a new funding model for the BBC would be sought by 2027, when the corporation’s Royal Charter is next up for renewal.

Her critics, including BBC presenter Dan Walker, have pointed to the volume of output the BBC produces, for 43 pence a day for license fee payers.

The Telegraph reported on Sunday that the Culture Secretary and the broadcaster had concluded negotiations on acrid terms.

Ms Dorries reportedly refused to raise the license fee in line with inflation.

The BBC was said to have claimed during discussions it had suffered a “huge” real terms cut of 30 percent in terms of funding.

The paper said the Government believes it would be unfair to raise the license fee at a time when taxes are being raised to pay of public debt accrued due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the cost of living rising due to inflation.

If the Government are still in power come 2027, they could push for a subscription-based model akin to those of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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However, the BBC may struggle to compete with internet streaming giants. BritBox – its subscription service launched as a joint venture with ITV in late 2019 – is regarded as a successor to Project Kangaroo, which was blocked in 2009 by the Competition Commission.

In the intervening decade, other streaming services gained a hefty market share.

Despite this, the BBC was “continuing to punch above its weight” in the battle for viewers, those inside the corporation have said.

A senior source close to the BBC board told the Telegraph that Ms Dorries was “profoundly damaging” the broadcaster.

A “poor licence fee settlement” would force “well loved” dramas to be scrapped and the World Service pared back.

Sources added that Ms Dorries was creating a “cut-price” BBC which “risks becoming a cheap, poor-quality” broadcaster.

A BBC source told the paper: “A global Britain needs a global media company. We currently have a world beating media company in the UK. It’s the BBC.

“It’s not perfect. It needs to continue to reform, but it is valued by the public and respected around the world.

“Its future is not secure. The BBC Board’s strong view is that anything less than a licence fee deal at inflation will have serious implications.

They added: “You can’t keep cutting the BBC and expect it to deliver the same level of service.

“Even a year’s rise with just inflation would mean households being asked to pay less than a penny a day more than they do at the moment – this is a small increase compared to the rest of the media sector where prices have risen by 10 percent or more.”

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