Former trustee explains the paradox of BBC license fee
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Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University, Professor Richard Tait, spoke to Express.co.uk about the financial issues facing the BBC and fought back against an argument he picked up on. Professor Tait explained the BBC needed to “make it to sell it” and was concerned that cutting the licence fee would greatly diminish the output of the BBC which would make it not financially attractive. The former BBC leader agreed the broadcaster needed to find ways to financially exploit the programmes it makes but feared they would not have “something worth selling” if it was allowed to slowly dissolve without strong intervention.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Professor Tait was asked what plans were discussed during his time at the BBC in order to address any financial black holes which may emerge.
The journalism academic explained the issue was widely debated among the BBC’s leadership and many of them had strong commercial skills and backgrounds which would help them come up with solutions.
Professor Tait said: “The current BBC chair is a very successful banker and the current BBC director-general, is a very experienced commercial manager.
“I don’t think they’re not going to look at every possible way of exploiting the BBC’s output.
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“The problem is that you’ve got to make it to sell it.
“So if you cut, you know, billions of pounds and over a period, we are talking billions, we’re talking about £285million a year out of a budget of about three and a half billion.
“That adds up, if you if you’re making fewer programmes, what are you going to sell? If you’re cutting the quality of programmes, who’s going to buy them?
“So I absolutely agree the BBC should become much more of a global player to exploit.
“The technology now makes it much easier to sell programmes all around the world. They can and they should do more, but they’ve got to have something worth selling.”
Professor Tait also told Express.co.uk that the BBC needed to continue what made it unique even if it is not commercially viable.
He explained: “I think the BBC has to double down on the things it does which are distinctive, and that includes Strictly Come Dancing and Match of the Day and EastEnders and the things which the mass audiences love.
“So it has to double down on that, it also has to continue to do things which no commercial organisation would do.
“No commercial organisation would run a network of local radio stations, speech-based local radio stations, as the BBC does.
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“No commercial organisation would run programming in Welsh and most commercial organisations are now finding it very difficult to justify having big production centres all around the country.”
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced a freeze on the TV licence fee for the next two years as debates erupt over how to fund the public broadcaster.
The fee will be fixed until April 2024 and then will rise with inflation for the following four years.
TV presenter David Dimbleby suggested the licence fee could be linked to council tax and based on income and property value.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “The licence fee is something that I absolutely believe in.
“I don’t think you can have public service broadcasting without paying for it through the public purse in that way.
“But what I do think is the BBC should acknowledge that £159 paid by the poorest as well the richest is just unfair, it’s inequitable.”
Chair of the Danish Journalists’ Association, Tine Johansen, told Express.co.uk that Denmark has now adopted a taxation system that is much fairer than the media licence they had to pay for.
Ms Johansen said the taxation is based on income as some concerns were raised over pensioners paying the same amount as business owners for their media licence.
Some commentators have suggested the BBC runs a reduced service and only provides news and education provisions,
Professor Tait was asked whether the idea has any legs but believed it would be “the beginning of the end” for the broadcaster.
He argued the reduced service would make people less reliant on the organisation meaning ultimately people would switch off entirely and there would be no more public broadcaster.
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