The BBC has said it will have at least £200M ($267M) less to spend on TV shows if the government makes good on threats to decriminalize non-payment of the licence fee.
Emboldened by securing a thumping majority in the British election last week, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has turned its attentions to the BBC and its funding mechanism.
Johnson asked last week if the licence fee “still makes sense,” and now his government has said that it is going to look into sweeping away criminal sanctions for people who watch television but do no pay the £154.50 fee.
“That is something the prime minister has said we will look at, and has instructed people to look at that,” Rishi Sunak, chief secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
It would mean revisiting an issue the government looked into only four years ago, when an independent review by David Perry QC said that the current system for dealing with licence fee evasion is “fair and proportionate,” as well as providing “good value for money.”
In a statement, the BBC warned that decriminalizing non-payment of the licence fee would mean it has “at least £200M less to spend on programs and services our audiences love.”
A spokesperson added: “The government has already commissioned a QC to take an in-depth look at this matter and he found that ‘the current system of criminal deterrence and prosecution should be maintained’ and that it is fair and value for money to licence fee payers.”
Johnson will not be able to make bigger changes to the BBC’s funding model until 2027 given the corporation’s operating agreement, known as its royal charter, is only reviewed once a decade. But the prime minister’s comments last week and the briefing against the BBC from government sources in the Sunday newspapers suggests that the British broadcaster faces a long and rancorous debate about funding.
The BBC was accused of having an anti-Conservative bias during the election campaign, but has faced similar accusations from the Labour party, which suffered a devastating defeat during the vote.
BBC director general Tony Hall admitted in an all-staff email that the corporation “made the odd mistake” during the campaign, but denied that it had any agenda. “I don’t accept the view of those critics who jump on a handful of examples to suggest we’re somehow biased one way or the other,” he said.