Mark Thompson: Licence fee should not fund ITV news

The BBC is to resist demands that it hands over some of its licence fee to fund ITV regional news.

Director general Mark Thompson has told peers that he does not think “weakening the BBC is going to help public service broadcasting”.

Ministers are currently examining proposals from the all-party media select committee for the BBC to give up some of its licence fee to help fund children’s programmes and regional programming by other public service broadcasters.

ITV has already pulled out of children’s programming and has sparked a political row by indicating it plans to reduce the number of flagship regional news shows from 17 to nine.

Giving evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee, Thompson signalled the BBC would fight any proposed cut in its licence fee.

Thompson, who has already been forced by a lower-than-requested licence fee settlement to axe 400 BBC journalists’ jobs, told peers: “I would need much convincing that top-slicing the licence fee is the right way forward.”

He said: “I believe there are very, very strong arguments against top-slicing the licence fee.”

Media regulator Ofcom is facing growing political pressure to reject ITV’s plans.

More than 80 MPs from all over the country have backed a Commons motion calling on Ofcom and the Government to work with ITV to come up with proposals that would generate sufficient income to maintain a regional news network.

Ofcom is about to embark on its own review of publice service broadcasting and the Government is to bring forward a separate review to examine whether licence fee revenue should be extended to other public service broadcasters.

Selby Labour MP John Grogan, chairman of the all-party BBC group, told media minister Margaret Hodge in the Commons that ITV chairman Michael Grade “has threatened that if he does not get his way and Ofcom does not agree to the cuts, he will keep the same number of news programmes, but cut the quality, sack journalists”.

Hodge told MPs: “We recognise the pressures on ITV but we believe that regional news remains a core part of ITV’s public service remit.

“Therefore, Ofcom must carefully consider whether the proposals set out by ITV will enable broadcasters to sustain those close regional relationships with their audiences.”

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