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BBC chief Tim Davie told regional staff that it is “truly amazing” that UK households are “happy” paying a forced licence fee. His remarks have sparked fury because the BBC scrapped free TV licences for the over 75s three years ago saying the scheme was too expensive.
Former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who froze the licence fee at £159 when she was in office, told the Express: “Mr Davie makes the case as to why the licence fee is outdated and the review into future funding of the BBC is so necessary.”
Stoke North MP Jonathan Gullis added: “The arrogance of the BBC is astonishing. Tim Davie boasting about coining it from a tax forced on people during a cost of living crisis is sickening.
“Add in that the BBC is using this taxpayers’ money to promote an increasingly woke, left-wing biased agenda which sneers at the sort of hard working people who live in my constituency then the case is clear for the licence fee to go.”
BBC boss Mr Davie went on to say that the broadcaster had “better budgets than some commercial operators”, which he described as “glorious”.
“It’s truly amazing what we’re pulling off, by the way,” Mr Davie reportedly said in a leaked recording of the meeting held on Tuesday.
“That most households are pretty happy paying a licence being a forced payment. It’s amazing what we’re pulling off.”
Dennis Reed, director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for older people, described Mr Davie’s tone as ‘sneering’.
“With such arrogant attitudes from the top leadership, it’s hardly surprising the reputation of the BBC is at such a low ebb,” he said.
“The true colours of BBC executives were first shown with the scrapping of free licences for the over 75s in 2020, when Mr Davie, the director general, and his colleagues refused to countenance any compromise to ease the pain of stopping this benefit for millions of older people.
“In direct talks with Mr Davie, I suggested widening the exemptions for paying the fee, to include, for example, all those living with dementia and the over-80s, but he wouldn’t listen.”
TV Licensing has been unable to prosecute the hundreds of thousands of over 75s who have not paid the licence fee since 2020, because of the uproar this would cause.
But multiple threatening and intimidating letters continue to be sent to households.
Mr Davie’s words have now provided new ammunition for crtitics of the licence fee.
Shipley MP and GB News presenter Philip Davies said: “It is about time this ridiculous anachronism was ended.
“It doesn’t say much for the BBC if the only way they can get people to subscribe to their channels is through the criminal law forcing people to pay for it. Tim Davie should be embarrassed about that, not boasting about it.”
North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen, who a decade ago tried to pass a private members bill to decriminalise the licence fee, said: “The BBC clings on to the licence fee as if it was a life raft but instead it is a lodestone dragging them down.
“They could have taken the route of being a worldwide subscription service and had huge success building up Britain’s soft power but instead they carried on threatening people in the UK with criminal sanctions including prison to pay a licence fee.
“The licence fee is not only deeply regressive and unfair, it’s also completely out of place in a world where people subscribe to providers, pick and choose content and the entire media and entertainment landscape has changed.”
Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “People paying for a television licence doesn’t mean they are happy with it.
“They pay it because they have to and because they receive threatening letters from TV Licensing if they don’t. In this day and age people should have a choice, and that means moving to a subscription based model”
And Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said: “I’m not sure where Tim Davie is getting his intel from.
“My own personal experience talking to constituents is that support for the BBC licence fee is at best mixed.”
Mr Davie’s remarks are all the more surprising coming as they do in the wake of his chairman Richard Sharp admitting that the TV licence fee is a “regressive” tax.
Mr Sharp said the £159 annual charge penalised the poor, women and pensioners.
The Corporation’s chairman was asked by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee if he still believed the telly tax funding model was the “least worst option”.
Mr Sharp, who has denied helping former prime minister Boris Johnson access a £800,000 loan, replied: “There are issues with the licence.
“It’s regressive. In some ways it’s considered anachronistic because there are other countries that adopt other mechanisms.
“And there are a number of issues in terms of how we collect it for pensioners and also issues arising from people’s failure to pay the licence for example, with respect to gender issues, so it is imperfect.”
In 2019, the BBC announced that free licences for 3.7m over-75s would end in a £475m cost-cutting move.
From 2020, only 1.5m pensioners qualified for a free licence if they were claiming pension credit.
Of these, 600,000 have likely missed out because as they have not signed up for the credit.
Mrs Dorries announced last year that the licence fee would be frozen at £159 for the next two years until April 2024, saying she wanted to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 as it is “completely outdated”.
Since then, new culture secretary Lucy Frazer has made no move to change the policy.
Mr Davie made the remarks during a one-hour meeting with a regional team within the BBC held on Tuesday, with The Daily Telegraph quoting “snippets” from a recording.
He also is reported to have cautioned staff about the BBC’s “message to the outside world” and the public perception that the organisation was “the cat with the cream”.
Mr Davie also claimed that rival broadcasters ITV and Sky were “in crisis”, reportedly telling staff: “Our budgets are slightly better than some of the commercial operators and the lovely thing is we can play long term as well, we don’t need to make a profit on everything, which is glorious.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “Tim Davie has been speaking to teams across the BBC about the organisation’s strategy, alongside taking questions from staff.
“It’s not unusual for these topics – among many others – to be raised in internal discussions.
“In talking with BBC teams, Tim regularly discusses the privilege of having the licence fee; the continued need to deliver outstanding content and distinctive journalism; the challenging circumstances facing the media industry, including the BBC; and, the fact that the BBC can take creative risks that are harder for others to do.
“The commercial media sector generally pays staff more than the BBC does. However, many people work at the BBC because they believe in public service and have access to great opportunities.”
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