Reaction to yesterday’s Ofcom proposals on the future of public service broadcasting focused on the danger of sharing the BBC licence fee and giving commercial broadcasters extra funding.
The BBC sought to head off any suggestions that its licence fee would be shared as it launched a series of speeches by broadcasting talent on why public service broadcasting matters. Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Fry and Will Hutton will make speeches, which will be available from a new BBC website on the issues.
Broadcasting commentator Maggie Brown said the most appealing Ofcom option was using the portion of the licence fee currently ringfenced for digital switchover schemes for Channel 4 and other public service content.
Blogging for the Guardian, Brown said the idea was most appealing of those set out by Ofcom because it did not involve extra levies on anyone and the BBC currently had to work without the cash anyway. But she warned against giving a politically appointed body the right to then decide which public service content deserved to receive this part of the licence fee.
The Telegraph picked up on the possibility of taxing internet service providers to to fund commercial broadcasters’ public service content.
Broadcasting regulator Ofcom said the levy would fall on the companies providing the goods and services, but they could could pass these on to the customers.
But Ofcom chief Ed Richards said the regulator was not advocating a direct tax. “I don’t see any logic in creating an additional personal tax.”
BSkyB poured scorn on the notion that commercial broadcasters like ITV and Channel Four needed public subsidy. Graham McWilliam, head of BSkyB corporate affairs said most broadcasters provided their public service content as a result of market forces, not regulatory intervention.
A BSkyB spokesman also told the Times that the current system was already “leaking like a sieve” and accused the BBC of spending licence fee money on US programming.
Former BBC director general Greg Dyke told the Daily Mail using the BBC’S licence fee to fund rivals’ programming would be a mistake. The Mail quoted John Whittingdale, the Tory chairman of the Commons culture, media and sports committee as supporting the redistribution of the funds currently ringfenced to help with digital switchover once that is complete. But he rejected additional public taxes.