Nadine Dorries lashes out at ‘unfair’ and ‘regressive’ BBC licence fee and reveals an ‘extensive review’ of the broadcaster will be announced within weeks as she says it’s time to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’
The Cabinet minister told MPs that she wanted an independent review of the national broadcaster to begin ‘as soon as possible’.
She described how it was ‘imperative’ to take a fresh look at the BBC’s funding model ahead of its current charter ending in 2027.
Ms Dorries branded the current use of a licence fee as an ‘unfair method of funding’ and a ‘regressive tax’.
She pointed to ‘stark figures’ showing how 30 per cent of all female convictions in England and Wales were related to non-payment of the licence fee.
The Culture Secretary also highlighted how almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of all people convicted over TV licence fee evasion were women.
Appearing before the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this morning, Ms Dorries claimed it would be ‘antediluvian’ to suggest the licence fee was still the best method of funding the BBC.
She told MPs that the broadcasting industry was changing at ‘warp speed’.
Ms Dorries has already frozen the annual levy at its current £159 a year for the next two years – as a means of helping households through the cost-of-living crisis – with it then rising in line with inflation for the following four years.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries described how it was ‘imperative’ to take a fresh look at the BBC’s funding model ahead of its current charter ending in 2027
The Cabinet minister told MPs that she wanted an independent review of the national broadcaster to begin ‘as soon as possible’
Ms Dorries branded the current use of a licence fee as an ‘unfair method of funding’ and a ‘regressive tax’
‘We’ve come to a point actually where discussion about the future funding of the BBC, I think, is imperative now,’ she told the Committee.
‘I find it very difficult to understand why people feel 74% of all convictions of non-paying the licence fee being women is acceptable or even defendable.
‘So, rather than wait until 2027, I’m going to announce very shortly that we’re going to start the review of the BBC licence fee and how it’s going to be funded in the future.’
Ms Dorries predicted a subscription funding model would be part of the discussions of future funding of the BBC, but said she would be ‘completely hands off’ while the review was conducted.
She also revealed she was currently seeking a ‘wholly independent’ chair for the review, adding that the terms of reference of the review would be announced ‘considerably before’ MPs head off on their summer break at the end of July.
Asked if she personally wanted the licence fee to be abolished, Ms Dorries replied: ‘Yes, the licence fee is an unfair method of funding for the BBC.’
She added: ‘When we only had one, two and three channels, or four channels, I’m sure it was the right model at the right time.
‘But to sit here and say, all those years later in the broadcasting landscape that we are now, that a model for funding the BBC all of those years ago is still applicable and still appropriate… I think is almost antediluvian.
‘We are at a point where we have to wake up and smell the coffee and realise that the times are changing rapidly in terms of the broadcasting landscape.
‘It’s time for a more effective, a more modern and fair way of funding the BBC. What that is, I don’t have an opinion on.’
Ms Dorries was challenged by senior Conservative MP Damian Green, the former Cabinet minister, as to whether the looming review would be a ‘sham’ as she had already made her views on the licence fee clearly known.
He also noted how the Committee had previously found that continuing the licence fee would be the ‘least bad option’ for future funding of the BBC.
The Culture Secretary said: ‘If the review came back to me and said “the only fair way we think of funding the BBC moving forward is the licence fee”, it would have to have a very robust case for doing that given how unfair the licence fee is.
‘It is a regressive tax and it does penalise women and the poor more than it does others. I’d find it difficult to think that’s the only conclusion a review could come up with.’
Ms Dorries told MPs it was ‘laughable’ to suggest the sale of Channel 4 was ‘revenge’ for Boris Johnson being replaced by an ice sculpture during a pre-election debate in 2019
Ms Dorries was also grilled about the proposed privatisation of Channel 4.
She told MPs it was ‘laughable’ to suggest the sale of the broadcaster was ‘revenge’ for Boris Johnson being replaced by an ice sculpture during Channel 4’s pre-election debate in 2019.
‘I can promise you the sale of Channel 4 is something that’s been reviewed and under discussion for a considerable time, not just since the last election,’ she said.
But Ms Dorries did tell the Committee that the ‘edgy’ Channel 4 News programme ‘don’t do themselves any favours sometimes’.
‘I’m not going to justify a news programme whose news anchor went out shouting obscenities about the Conservative Party,’ she said, in reference to past accusations that presenter Jon Snow chanted ‘f*** the Tories’ while at Glastonbury Festival.
The veteran journalist previously said he had ‘no recollection of what was chanted’.