On Tuesday, BBC Director-General Tim Davie hit back against plans to freeze the TV licence fee at £159 over the next two years, which he warned would “inevitably” result in programmes and services being axed. But the wider issue is the possible scrapping of the licence fee altogether by 2028, after the expiration of the broadcaster’s current royal charter – an idea the Prime Minister said he is “right behind”.
Mr Johnson told his top team on Tuesday evening that “we can’t expect people to keep paying a licence fee just because they own a TV”, according to the Sun.
This is the greatest indication yet that the levy could be approaching its final years since Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries suggested the next licence fee announcement “will be the last”.
Ms Dorries said in a post on Twitter on Sunday: “[It is] time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”
Giving a statement in the House of Commons on Monday, Ms Dorries appeared to water down her previous remarks, committing only to a “review” of the broadcaster’s funding model.
Mr Johnson’s intervention is a sign the Government really is dedicated to fundamentally changing the way the BBC operates.
The Prime Minister is reported to have urged his Cabinet to get behind proposals to remove the fee.
He said he was “right behind this” – “this” being the idea people shouldn’t be forced to pay £159 per simply simply for owning a TV.
There does, however, appear to be some upset among ministers about the way announcements have been made about the future of the BBC over the past week.
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He said internal calculations suggested the announcement could lead to a loss of income of just shy of £300million.
This could see BBC Four being axed, with Mr Davie insisting that “everything’s on the agenda”.
Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of the Bow Group, Britain’s oldest conservative think tank, said the scrapping of the licence fee was now a question of when, not if.
But he added that the Tories have only begun piling attention on the future of the BBC now in order to distract attention from what has been dubbed ‘Partygate’.
He told Express.co.uk: “The question is, why does it take a crisis for the Conservative Party to do the conservative things people elected them to do?
“Given they have shown they don’t really believe in conservatism [through their failure to control immigration and their pursuit of the green agenda], any commitments not set in stone will likely be discarded as soon as the pressure is off.”