Sir Michael Lyons: No rolling back of BBC News

BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, said yesterday he would be amazed if the corporation departed from its position as a provider of “free, impartial, accurate news.”

His comments came in response to recent criticisms made by New Corporation chief executive in Europe and Asia, James Murdoch, who demanded BBC News was cut back.

Rejecting those demands, Lyons said some aspects of the corporation must be scaled back and must provide better value for money.

“We cannot ask the pubic for increasing amounts of money, there are hard choices to make,” he told the Media Show on BBC Radio 4.

His comments came after the BBC yesterday published the results of a survey it had commissioned into viewers attitudes to the licence fee which found that most would prefer a reduction in cost than for a portion to be used to fund public service broadcasting, including local news, on other channels.

Sir Lyons also claimed that taking a step-by-step approach to reducing the fee would be a “slippery slope”.

He said: “Before you know where you are, the licence fee is merged with general taxation and the public don’t know what they’re pay for…

“We have already done work to reshape the BBC on behalf of the people who pay for it, that is the job of the trust. We have been doing this work over two years.

“We now believe it needs to be accelerated and we have asked the director general to begin a radical review and it may lead to changes in services and indeed the end of some services.”

In his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival earlier this month, Murdoch accused the BBC of “dumping free, state-sponsored news” on the market, making it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet.

Lyons said yesterday: “I have heard those arguing that it complicates life for newspapers, and there is no doubt that the rise of the internet challenges both the role and funding of newspapers.

“But that’s the same across the world whether they have the BBC or not.

“It’s always important to look at the evidence, [at] what happens in the United Kingdom as opposed to what happens in north America, where exactly the same pressures exist without the BBC.

“I would be frankly amazed if the BBC retreated from its trusted position as a provider of free, impartial, accurate news to the British people.”

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