New UK Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has indicated she will take up the mantle of firebrand predecessor Nadine Dorries by insisting it is “impossible” to sustain the BBC license fee after 2027, while distancing herself from the former I’m a Celebrity… contestant’s views on impartiality.
Appearing for the first time in front of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee (DCMSC), Donelan stressed that she will push on and seek alternatives to the fee that emerge from a review into the £159.50 ($195) annual charge – the BBC’s funding model for the past century.
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Questioned on what she would do if the review recommends no change to the funding model, Donelan said this would be “impossible” due to the fact that “increasing the license fee will further drive down” the number of people who pay the fee. It is currently frozen but will return to rising with inflation in two years’ time.
“The licence fee alone cannot be the only answer because we know the direction of travel,” said Donelan, a former WWE Marketing Manager who took up her post three months ago.
Alternatives such as a subscription or advertising model have been given short shrift so far and Donelan, who has also committed to a review of the business case for Channel 4 privatization, said there is “no magical solution to this conundrum.”
“That’s why we’ve committed to the [BBC] review,” she added. “We need the right people round the table providing the evidence.”
Donelan took up Dorries’ mantle on the future of the license fee but distanced herself from her predecessor’s repeated notion that the BBC’s future funding model is fundamentally connected to its success on impartiality – a key plank of Director General Tim Davie’s recent approach.
“Impartiality has nothing to do with the future funding model and [the BBC’s] sustainability,” she added, before confirming that she disagreed with Dorries’ remarks.
Donelan said the issue of impartiality was raised in her first meeting with Davie and BBC Chair Richard Sharp.
Later, she criticized the BBC for failing to brief the government in advance of swingeing cuts to local news teams, asking that in future the BBC “work constructively” with the Conservatives when planning mass redundancies.
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