UK freezes BBC funding for two years - RTHK
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UK freezes BBC funding for two years

2022-01-18 HKT 05:19
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  • The licence fee funds BBC television, radio and online services, as well as programming. File photo: AFP
    The licence fee funds BBC television, radio and online services, as well as programming. File photo: AFP
The UK government came under fire on Monday for freezing the BBC licence fee, with critics accusing it of a politically motivated attack to save the prime minister's job.

The Conservatives' Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the £159 annual fee would be fixed for two years until 2024, then rise in line with inflation for the next four.

She justified the funding cut, which BBC bosses called "disappointing", as needed to ease cost of living pressures on cash-strapped families and reflect a transformed media landscape.

But opposition parties said the monthly payments for all television set owners – equivalent to £13.13 a month – was small change compared to looming tax rises and soaring energy bills totalling thousands of pounds a year.

Labour's media spokeswoman Lucy Powell said the government was seeking to appease critics of Boris Johnson, whose position is in jeopardy due to revelations about lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street.

"Is the licence fee really at the heart of the cost of living crisis or is this really about their long-term vendetta against the BBC?" she asked in parliament.

"It's at the heart of Operation Red Meat to stop the prime minister becoming dead meat," she added, referring to a reported government fight-back plan of populist measures to boost Johnson's standing.

The BBC, which marks its centenary later this year, has come under increasing claims from right-wingers since the UK's divisive Brexit referendum in 2016 for political bias, and pushing a "woke", London-centric liberal agenda.

But the public service broadcaster, founded by Royal Charter and operating independently of government, has faced similar accusations from the political left.

Critics accused Dorries, a Johnson loyalist who leaked details of the plan on Twitter on Sunday night after a torrid week for the prime minister, of "cultural vandalism" and wrecking a world-renowned British institution.

Dorries has previously accused the BBC of "tokenism" in diversity hiring and elitist "group think" but denied she wanted to dismantle the corporation.

The licence fee funds BBC television, radio and online services, as well as programming, many of which are exported commercially worldwide.

Supporters maintain it provides excellent value for money, and a range of services from news and current affairs to wildlife documentaries, children's output, drama and music.

But opponents, including rival commercial broadcasters, have long complained that its guaranteed funding model, which criminalises non-payers, is unfair.

Nearly £3.7 billion was raised by the licence fee in 2019, accounting for about three-quarters of the BBC's total income of £4.9 billion. The remainder came from commercial activities. (AFP)