Current Affairs

Exclusive: Gay culture secretary says the BBC must be prevented from having a monopoly of the licence fee

PinkNews Staff Writer July 22, 2009
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Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has spoken about controlling illegal downloading, protecting regional news and preventing the BBC from having a monopoly on the television licence fee.

Last week, Bradshaw, whose civil partner is BBC News producer Neal Dalgleish, found himself being slapped down by the BBC for criticising its management.

In an interview with the Financial Times last week, the former BBC journalist attacked the corporation’s “wrong-headed” leadership and said that many staff felt they were not being led well.

The BBC is opposing government plans to top-slice 3.5 per cent (£130 million) off the licence fee to fund regional news on ITV and possibly some children’s programmes.

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said he would not be responding to Bradshaw’s “personal criticism”.

Last night, Bradshaw, the secretary for culture, media and sport, defended the recommendation in the Digital Britain report.

When asked him why he gave such a controversial interview, Mr Bradshaw said: “We have a serious problem in this country right now in that local newspapers, and local and regional broadcast news, are in crisis. ITV and a number of regional news programmes have recently amalgamated but they’re not sustainable in the long term.

“And the public tell us that local news broadcasts are very much appreciated and valued. I also happen to think that regional news is a very important part of our democratic culture. so it’s obviously important that the BBC doesn’t have a monopoly.

“So all we are suggesting in Digital Britain is moving three and a half per cent from the licence fee. Incidentally, it’s not the BBC licence fee, it’s the television licence fee. The BBC doesn’t own it, it’s the licence fee to pay for public service broadcasters.”

Adding that the loss would not be “hugely damaging” for the BBC, he pointed out the corporation was protected compared to those in the private sector.

“They are protected by inflation-busting increases in the licence fee at a time when everyone else in the media landscape is really suffering in the global downturn, so I don’t think that’s an unreasonable suggestion.

Hinting at a future Tory government, he added: “I also take the view that tactically, it would make more sense for the BBC to be an organisation that pumps other organisations to provide public service content rather than feeling it needs to hoard the licence fee to itself. In terms of the future government, it might not be so friendly to the BBC. I think they’ve got this practically wrong, I think they’ve got it strategically wrong. Hence my comments on leaderships. We want them to engage with this consultation. And if they’ve got a better idea as to how we ensure plurality [in regions and provision] in the future, that’s great. But so far no one’s come up with that solution.

Bradshaw was asked whether he thought provisions on illegal downloading and file sharing were too draconian.

He said: “I would say the Digital Britain report is an attempt to address some of the concerns of the creative industry. At the moment, you have this plethora of new media and you have very little or very few means of controlling it. So a kid in his or her bedroom, they can download stuff from the internet, they can illegally share files. Some of us would say that’s theft.

“And the worry I would have about that is you completely devalue creativity, you don’t give creativity any value.

“As a country, one of the things we excell in is in the creative industries. For our size in the music industry, the film industry, the arts, culture, we bat way above our weight. And there are many, many people in this country right now who are concerned about the fact that their creativity is being stolen, to put it bluntly. So I think we do have to take some measures.

“There’s always a balance to be struck between doing that and criminalising swathes of young people. but what we’re trying to do, proposing to do, is to set up a system where if someone is illegally file-sharing or downloading stuff, they get a warning letter . This is something that’s happened in other parts of the world. Some countries have introduced something similar, but a bit more draconian that what we’re proposing.

“That has been shown to work in other countries but if we don’t do something about this, in the global visual age, we’ll get to a situation of digital anarchy.

When discussing south Korea, where “virtually every household” has super-fast broadband, Bradshaw was corrected by members of the audience when he referred to megabytes rather than megabits.

When asked by about Channel 4 having to slash at least ten percent off production costs including news, he said: “There are very intense discussions going on at the moment between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide about a possible joint venture. We think that would be a very good thing. The whole of the commercial broadcast sector, and the commercial newspaper sector, is facing huge challenges at the moment but we have to try and find practicable solutions which balance the public’s desire to have good quality journalism with the realities of the market and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with Channel 4.

“Channel 4 News do an amazing job on a very limited budget compared with what happens with all the BBC do. I’m a great fan of Channel 4 News and I want to see them survive and flourish in the future media landscape. “

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