The BBC would only be allowed licence fee money for programmes that meet strict public service criteria under legislation set out by a Tory former minister today.
Christopher Chope, the MP for Christchurch, introduced a bill in the Commons setting out a series of requirements that programmes would have to meet in order to qualify.
He said his Broadcasting (Public Service Content) Bill was a “stab” at defining what counts as public service broadcasting and added that it could have the knock-on effect of reducing the licence fee or allowing more money to reach other providers.
In order to qualify for licence fee money under the bill’s provisions, BBC programmes would need to be “primarily produced in the United Kingdom” and do one of the following:
- Comprise local, national or international news or current affairs which is impartial, factual and objective
- Have a primary purpose to inform, educate or entertain children
- Have primarily religious or charitable content
- Comprise content that would otherwise not be likely to be provided by the market responding to consumer demand.
The National Audit Office would be in charge of judging whether the criteria had been met and programmes would also need to meet “prevailing standards of good taste and decency”.
During the bill’s second reading debate, Liberal Democrat spokesman David Heath said the provisions would stop the BBC from broadcasting sport.
But Chope said: “None of this would prevent the BBC showing any programmes.
“What I am saying is that it would only be able to be subsidised from the licence fee if what they were producing met the criteria of public service content.”
Heath said the bill was simply “unacceptable” as it provided for a “desiccated, feeble imitation of public service broadcasting”.
He said the BBC was too important to be used as “some sort of political point scoring machine” between the parties.
Culture and sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe warned it would be “very dangerous” to back the bill, which would, in no way, achieve what Chope wanted.
He was still speaking when time ran out at 2.30pm. The measure now goes back down the list of backbench bills and stands no chance of making further progress.