The Conservative shadow culture minister has accused the Government of ‘dithering’ on the reform of public service broadcasting.
In a wide-ranging speech at the Oxford Media Convention this afternoon, Ed Vaizey turned on the Government and Ofcom for the time it was taking to address the issues facing the future funding of TV news and current affairs.
“We have had the Ofcom review, the Purnell review and now the Carter review, three reviews all going in different directions, wasting time and money,” he said.
“The only clear outcome so far is that [culture secretary] Andy Burnham has been comprehensively sidelined, and broadcasting policy has been taken over by Stephen Carter and Peter Mandelson.”
Vaizey also warned that the public would not tolerate a more expensive licence fee and said it was important that the salaries paid to the BBC’s top talent should be transparent.
“While we support the licence fee, and believe it is the best way to fund the BBC for the foreseeable future, we believe the level of the licence fee is at the top end of what is acceptable to the public,” he said.
“The current settlement – which began in 2006 and lasts until 2012 – built in increases of 13 to 15 per cent over that period.
“That was a generous settlement when times were good. It may start to look prohibitive as times get increasingly bad.
“The BBC will have to think very hard about whether substantial licence fee increases can be justified in the coming years.”
When asked by the audience where his evidence was, Vaizey replied: “I am going on my political instinct, which has so far proved infallible.
“I don’t believe the BBC is stretched for cash. I honestly don’t believe that.”
Earlier, Vaizey said the BBC’s top salaries should be made public.
“A public service broadcaster with guaranteed revenue shouldn’t compete with the private sector on top talent salaries,” he said.
“In fact, I would go further and say the BBC actually pushes up the price of talent with its interventions.
“We will ensure that the BBC publishes fully audited accounts which will include details of the salaries of all its top talent.
“The BBC should be prepared to defend salary and indeed all expenditure decisions it makes.”
While saying the Conservatives were “fans” of the BBC, Vaizey said the corporation must not encroach on commercial media companies.
“The expansion of the BBC into areas where the private sector is already working needs to be carefully watched,” he said.