Sunday, 2 August 2009

Slash the BBC

According to the Sunday Times, the Conservatives are planning to freeze the licence fee and sell off Radio 1.

Good start, but does not go far enough. I would like to see the licence fee being slashed from £142.50 to £99, with a pledge to keep it frozen under £100 for the duration of the next Tory government. This would force the BBC to re-evaluate the services it provides; show the Tory commitment to cutting tax and give a small but helpful break to taxpayers.

Anything, like Radio 1, which has a huge audience share means unfair competition for commercial broadcasters. The licence fee should be used to subsidise important, useful but non-profitable programming, eg news services. Anything which has a commercial value should be offered by commercial broadcasters.

So, let's sell off Radio 1, Radio 2 and Radio 5. They could probably all survive on their own. Radio 3 should be closed: it has been eclipsed by Classic FM, after all, and has no further function. However, the frequencies it uses will bring in millions when they are sold off.

Radio 4 provides the sort of current affairs and light entertainment broadcasting that the licence fee is intended for. It is the only one of the national radio stations that I would keep under BBC control. The World Service is an icon of broadcasting and should be preserved, as should the stations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The 39 English local stations should be sold or scrapped, as they simply provide unfair competition to local commercial stations. Also, scrap the digital stations.

In television, I would keep BBC 1, BBC2 and scrap the rest. When the licence fee was first introduced, there was no choice. Now we have hundreds of competing channels, and there is no need for all of these. Based on the BBC's own figures, the above changes should bring the licence fee down to just over £100. Further changes can be made by restricting the salaries of higher-paid employees, eg Jonathan Ross. If he is worth £6 million a year on the open market, then ITV or another commercial channel will pay him that. The online presence of the BBC should also be reduced. There are some useful online functions, eg education, but the news service, for example, should not be allowed to undermine local newspapers.

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