Top broadcaster David Dimbleby says the BBC has strayed ‘a bit’ on its reporting of topics such as immigration, as he today waded into the ongoing licence fee row by suggesting the TV levy should be linked to council tax.
The former Question Time host, 83, said the national broadcaster had become more unpopular ‘the further north you go’ and that it must do more to keep in ‘lockstep’ with public opinion in Britain.
Asked if there were any particular issues where the BBC had missed public opinion the highly respected journalist said: ‘Immigration for instance.
‘Over the years the BBC has not been strong on looking at the reasons that people in some parts of Britain were uneasy about the scale of immigration.’
In a wide-ranging interview about the future of the BBC on Radio 4’s World at One programme, Mr Dimbleby also discussed his opinions on the licence fee.
BBC funding has been a hot topic of debate in recent days following the announcement that it would be frozen at £159 over the next two years – after which it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is also reported to have said the BBC’s funding review ‘would be the last’, indicating that there could be a different funding model put in place for the BBC after 2028.
Mr Dimbleby, giving his own thoughts on the licence fee, described the current flat rate as unfair. But he urged ministers to keep the current publicly funded system, instead of switching to a Netflix-style subscription fee.
‘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,’ he said.
Top broadcaster David Dimbleby (pictured) says the BBC has strayed ‘a bit’ on its reporting of topics such as immigration, as he today waded into the ongoing licence fee row by suggesting the TV levy should be linked to council tax
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (pictured) is reported to have said the BBC’s funding review ‘would be the last’, indicating that there could be a different funding model put in place for the BBC after 2028
Mr Dimbleby, giving his own thoughts on the licence fee, describing the current flat rate as unfair. But he urged ministers to keep the current publicly funded system for the BBC (pictured: Library image), instead of switching to a Netflix-style subscription fee
‘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.
‘And there’s a simple way in which the BBC can get on the front foot, which is by suggesting the licence fee figure, the gross figure of £159, should not be paid flat rate by everybody but the richest should pay more and the poorest less.
Blair criticises ‘attacks’ on BBC amid licence fee debate
Sir Tony Blair has said it would be a ‘big mistake’ for the Government to ‘jeopardise’ the future of the BBC amid debate over the licence fee.
The former prime minister, 68, defended the broadcaster and described it as an ‘internationally renowned institution’ and a positive force for the country.
However, he refused to speculate about how the BBC could be funded in the future.
Sir Tony told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘When you are in a position of political leadership there are some times you like the BBC and some times you don’t.
‘But I think the BBC is a great institution. It’s an internationally renowned institution.
‘It does the country a lot of good, a lot of people listen to it all around the world and I think it would be a big mistake if we jeopardise it.
‘Now what that means for future funding, I’ll let other people who are more expert in it than me determine.
‘But I don’t like the attacks on it, I don’t think they are right and I don’t think they’re sensible for the future of the country.’
‘And the simple way of doing it would be to attach an element of the licence fee to the council tax band.’
He added: ‘Why should the poorest pay the same as I pay? It’s just not fair.’
Mr Dimbleby also said the BBC must do more to keep in ‘lockstep’ with public opinion, saying it has strayed ‘a bit’, such as on issues as immigration.
He said: ‘I think the Director General Tim Davie does acknowledge that as you move further north through the UK the BBC is less and less in favour.
‘And there must be a reason for that which we need to explore. Whether it is the agenda that is used by the BBC for its news coverage and its broadcasting, I suspect there may be tweaks to that.
‘But it is very important that you try and keep in lockstep with public opinion.’
Asked if the BBC had wandered from the path, he said: ‘A bit yes, I do. Maybe the country has wandered from the BBC’s path, I don’t know.’
Mr Dimbleby had earlier written a letter to The Times, which was published in Friday’s edition.
He said: ‘Those in Band A would pay the most for possession of a TV set and those in Band D the least.
‘In this way the BBC’s revenue would be maintained but the burden would fall more fairly on the public, and at least one of the objections to the licensing system would be removed.’
Following the Government’s announcement about the licence fee, the corporation’s director-general commented on the funding alternatives.
Tim Davie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier in the week: ‘Once you’re trying to serve a subscription base and a commercial agenda – and, believe me, I’ve run commercial businesses – it is a completely different situation, because suddenly you are doing things that are there to make profit and make a return to a specific audience.’
Asked if he agrees with the debate that the licence fee is ‘over’, he said: ‘I think the debate is more centred around ‘Do we want a universal public service media organisation at the heart of our creative economy, which has served us incredibly well?’
‘And if we want that, we have to support a publicly-backed and not a fully commercialised BBC.’
The comments from Mr Dimbleby come as Mr Davie is understood to have warned staff about job cuts after revealing the licence fee freeze will result in a £285million gap in funding.
Mr Davie, 54, reportedly told employees that the licence fee settlement would require the BBC to rethink its operational structure.
In an internal video conference, Mr Davie told staff that the headcount at the organisation would ‘probably’ get ‘slightly smaller, according to The Times.
He said: ‘I’m going to be blunt — we’d rather have slightly less people here, but properly funded and in the right place.’
Tim Davie (pictured) reportedly told employees the BBC licence fee settlement, which will see the fee frozen at £159 for two years, would require the BBC to rethink its operational structure
BBC insiders are believed to have interpreted his comments as a warning about redundancies, while staff are said to be ‘upset, frustrated and depressed’.
Mr Davie reportedly said that staff should expect further details in April, when the company’s new financial year begins and the licence fee settlement is introduced.
Following the announcement of the funding freeze, Mr Davie refused to rule out scrapping BBC Radio Four and warned ‘everything’s on the agenda’ after revealing the licence fee freeze will result in a £285million gap in funding for the corporation.
He said the income from the fee by 2027 will be about £4.2billion based on the corporation’s assumptions around inflation and admitted that the settlement ‘will affect our frontline output, there’s no doubt about that’.
Mr Davie was asked whether BBC Four would survive, and said: ‘I’m not going to make specific recommendations now, we are going to take stock, we’ve got the settlement – that gives us certainty now.
‘We will make clean decisions, what we need to do is just go through this year. We’re being prudent in the way we plan our finances.’
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (pictured) confirmed the licence fee would be frozen for two years, until 2024, after which it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years
While being interviewed on a prime-time 7.50am slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today by Nick Robinson, Mr Davie was pressed on the future of BBC Four, BBC Two and Radio Five Live, and said: ‘I think everything’s on the agenda.’
Asked whether ‘channels might go’, he said: ‘Absolutely’.
He added: ‘People, clearly and rightly, are worried about what the £285million cut in terms of two years flat brings, but also, as an organisation, we need to reshape ourselves for a digital age. The media market is moving extremely rapidly.’
From BBC One to Bitesize: What TV, radio and online services does it offer?
- BBC One
- BBC Two
- BBC Three (returns on February 1)
- BBC Four
- BBC News
- BBC Parliament
- BBC Radio 1
- BBC Radio 1Xtra
- BBC Radio 2
- BBC Radio 3
- BBC Radio 4
- BBC Radio 4 Extra
- BBC Radio 5 Live
- BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra
- BBC Radio 6 Music
- BBC Asian Network
- BBC Homepage
- BBC iPlayer
- BBC Sounds
- BBC News
- BBC Sport
- BBC Bitesize
- BBC Weather
- CBBC and CBeebies Online
Mr Davie said the corporation felt it was being ‘listened to’ but given the licence fee was set by politicians ‘you are in the political swirl’, and he expressed disappointment at the freeze, saying ‘we would have liked to have seen an inflation rise throughout the period’.
He told the Today programme earlier this week: ‘Our estimate is, and just to set this clearly for everyone, by the year 2027, the licence fee income will be about £4.2billion based on our assumptions around inflation.
‘Guessing games around inflation are obviously difficult. We estimate our settlement gives a £285million gap, but at the end of the period.’
He said the BBC has made ‘very good progress in terms of cutting costs that don’t affect the licence fee payers’ as the organisation is ‘utterly focused in making sure people get value for the licence fee’.
‘There is no doubt about it, we go first to those cuts where we don’t affect our output. Having said that, I think there are two factors now on why we’re disappointed in this settlement,’ he said.
‘The first is the BBC has been through years and decades of below-inflation demands on its funding and that has led to … we are lean. We’re lean in terms of our support staff, we’ve got a team that comes from a commercial background.
‘I think we can be assessed by any means and you will get to a point, which I think we are, not at the place where you can never make cuts, but this will affect our frontline output, there’s no doubt about that.’
Ms Dorries told MPs yesterday that the corporation needed to ‘address issues around impartiality and group think’ and also added it was ‘time to begin asking those really serious questions about the long-term funding model of the BBC’.
She said the time had come to ‘discuss and debate new ways of funding’ the BBC but did not detail the Government’s preferred alternative.
Warning of ‘inevitable’ cuts to programmes as a result of the licence fee freeze, Mr Davie said today: ‘Inevitably, if you don’t have £285million, you will get less services and less programmes. I still think the BBC can offer extraordinary value for the £13 a month. We can do that.’
He said he thinks the organisation is in a ‘good place’ following an ‘excellent Christmas’ and that iPlayer is doing ‘brilliant business’ for the BBC in terms of numbers.
‘We’re not just going to put aspic round linear services or say we’re going to keep doing exactly the same thing. So we need to reshape the business,’ he added.
Outlining whether he thinks the BBC should take on a subscription model, Mr Davie said the ‘principle of universality is absolutely the debate here’.
He added that the broadcaster could transform into a commercial operation, but if it did ‘it will not do what it does today’.
‘We have built an incredible creative industry here in the UK, and we’ve got a universal broadcaster that is admired around the world,’ Mr Davie told Radio 4.
‘That is because it serves the British public and all the British public… the principle of universality is absolutely the debate here.’
He also said that if the publicly-funded broadcaster became even largely subscription-based rather than completely subscription-based it would have a huge change to its content.
In an internal video conference, Mr Davie told staff that the headcount at the organisation would ‘probably’ get ‘slightly smaller, according to The Times (file photo of BBC logo)
Mr Davie said: ‘Once you’re trying to serve a subscription base and a commercial agenda – and, believe me, I’ve run commercial businesses – it is a completely different situation, because suddenly you are doing things that are there to make profit and make a return to a specific audience.’
Viewers complain over Partygate ‘bias’
The corporation yesterday denied it had been biased against the Prime Minister in its coverage of the Downing Street lockdown party.
Viewers and listeners complained that it had not given ‘sufficient prominence’ to similar stories relating to Sir Keir Starmer and Labour.
Last week senior Tories accused it of ‘outrageous’ bias over its coverage of Boris Johnson’s apology to MPs for ‘Partygate’. Yesterday the BBC published a response, which is usually triggered when it receives more than 100 complaints, in which it said it had been ‘fair, duly impartial and proportionate’.
It added: ‘We have reported on the photo of Sir Keir Starmer drinking a beer with colleagues, made clear the Covid measures that were in place at the time, and reflected the response from Sir Keir’s political opponents.’
Asked if he agrees with the debate that the licence fee is ‘over’, he said: ‘I think the debate is more centred around ‘Do we want a universal public service media organisation at the heart of our creative economy, which has served us incredibly well?’ And if we want that, we have to support a publicly-backed and not a fully commercialised BBC.’
Mr Davie also said bosses were in final discussions over the funding of the BBC when the Government announced the freeze.
He told Radio 4: ‘We were in the final knockings, to be fair, and I think we had a long process where we made the case for investment in the BBC.
‘So this wasn’t a shortened process, as such, by more than a few days, but, certainly, as the Speaker of the House observed, it was an interesting way of announcing it. But now we’re very clear on what the settlement is.’
He added that the broadcaster understands the pressures on household incomes as the Government’s reasoning for the freeze but that it is still disappointed with the news.
‘We are disappointed,’ he said. ‘We would have liked to have seen an inflation rise throughout the period. We’ve got four out of six years, and on we go. I would say having certainty of income for six years… is very material for us.’
The licence fee plans will take effect from April 1, 2022, and later this year, the Government will ‘start to consider the overall governance and regulation of the BBC’, as part of the mid-term review of the BBC Charter, it was announced on Monday.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced that it planned to cast its gaze to the future and given the changing broadcasting landscape due to streamers and video on demand, the Government will ‘separately consider whether the licence fee will remain a viable funding model for the BBC’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured) is said to have hit out at the speed of the announcement about the £159 annual levy, which was revealed in the Mail on Sunday
But Rishi Sunak and other senior ministers are leading a revolt over the licence fee plans, despite Boris Johnson throwing his weight behind the move.
The Chancellor is said to have hit out at the speed of the announcement about the £159 annual levy, which was revealed in the Mail on Sunday.
He is also said to be unhappy at Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries over a lack of consultation with ministers beforehand on a matter with financial implications, according to the FT.
Ms Dorries tweeted at the weekend that the fee settlement running to 2027 would be ‘the last’.
But in an announcement in the Commons on Monday she had watered down her language to simply say the current settlement would be reviewed then.
The Sun earlier this week said that Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey also voiced her unhappiness at Cabinet over the way the announcement – which has pensions implications – was handled.
It was part of a raft of populist measures announced under Operation Red Meat and rushed out to aid the PM as he faces widespread anger over Partygate.
Mr Johnson has enthusiastically thrown his weight behind axing the licence fee before the end of the decade.
The Sun reported he told Cabinet: ‘we can’t expect people to keep paying a licence fee just because they own a TV.’