New way of funding BBC must be found ‘eventually’, culture minister warns MPs

A culture minister today warned MPs that an alternative means of funding the BBC will ‘eventually’ have to be looked at. 

John Whittingdale told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027.

The ‘justification that everybody benefits from paying it because everybody benefited from the BBC is still largely the case, but that will diminish over time’, he said. 

‘I suspect that eventually, we will need to look at alternative methods of funding the BBC,’ he added.

Mr Whittingdale also said that decriminalising licence fee evasion would bring with it ‘potential negatives’ and is a ‘more complicated matter than was originally perhaps suggested’.

His comments come as the Government prepares to publish its response to a consultation on decriminalising licence fee evasion.

‘It is clear that the alternatives do carry with them potential negatives as well… with higher fines and… bailiffs to knock on people’s door, so we are of a view that this is a more complicated matter than was originally perhaps suggested,’ he said.

‘We are certainly not going to rule it out. We will continue to keep it under review.

The minister said he is ‘entirely open minded’ about privatising Channel 4 and that he is giving thought to the ‘future of all the public service broadcasters’.

The Government has previously announced a panel to ‘help shape the future of the public broadcasting system and explore the reforms needed to make sure it is modern, sustainable and successful’.

Today’s hearing into the future of public service broadcasting also heard:

  • Ofcom wants BBC to improve its reporting of trans issues so it doesn’t offend;
  • Mr Whittingdale defended Oliver Dowden in Netflix row over The Crown;
  • Committee chair Julian Knight accused Ofcom of being ‘powerless’ over Netflix;
  • He accused Netflix of using Holland as ‘flag of convenience’ to escape UK rules;
  • Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s boss, admitted it was a ‘concern’ different standards regimes applied to different types of content accessed in UK. 
A culture minister today warned MPs that an alternative means of funding the BBC will 'eventually' have to be looked at. John Whittingdale told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027

A culture minister today warned MPs that an alternative means of funding the BBC will 'eventually' have to be looked at. John Whittingdale told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027

A culture minister today warned MPs that an alternative means of funding the BBC will ‘eventually’ have to be looked at. John Whittingdale told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the licence fee model is guaranteed until 2027

The 'justification that everybody benefits from paying it because everybody benefited from the BBC is still largely the case, but that will diminish over time', Mr Whittingdale said

The 'justification that everybody benefits from paying it because everybody benefited from the BBC is still largely the case, but that will diminish over time', Mr Whittingdale said

The ‘justification that everybody benefits from paying it because everybody benefited from the BBC is still largely the case, but that will diminish over time’, Mr Whittingdale said 

At today’s committee hearing, the chief executive of TV watchdog Ofcom said that she wanted the BBC to improve the way it covered trans issues so that it did not cause offence.

Dame Melanie Dawes told MPs: ‘It’s something we’ve been talking to [campaigning organisation] Stonewall about. ‘Can broadcasters [bring balance] in an appropriate way?’

She also denied she wanted to push out views from people like Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who was criticised for mocking an article which used the words ‘people who menstruate’ instead of ‘women’.

‘It’s about making sure we give the right information to our broadcasters so they can steer their way through the debate without causing offence or bringing inappropriate questions to the table,’ Dame Melanie said.

Mr Whittingdale also defended Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s decision to write to Netflix, advising them that The Crown show should carry a ‘fiction’ disclaimer at the beginning of episodes for its depiction of the Royal Family. 

The culture minister said that ‘most people are aware that dramatised accounts of real-life events inevitably require some speculation.’

But he said: ‘These are events which are still quite raw and controversial, they involve people such as the existing Prince of Wales and his sons.

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said she wants the BBC to change the way it reports trans issues so that it doesn't cause offence. She also admitted that the broadcasting watchdog could do very little to regulate Holland-based Netflix

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said she wants the BBC to change the way it reports trans issues so that it doesn't cause offence. She also admitted that the broadcasting watchdog could do very little to regulate Holland-based Netflix

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said she wants the BBC to change the way it reports trans issues so that it doesn’t cause offence. She also admitted that the broadcasting watchdog could do very little to regulate Holland-based Netflix

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that 'effectively' Netflix is not regulated at all within the UK because the company is based in the Netherlands. Pictured: Josh O'Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that 'effectively' Netflix is not regulated at all within the UK because the company is based in the Netherlands. Pictured: Josh O'Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that ‘effectively’ Netflix is not regulated at all within the UK because the company is based in the Netherlands. Pictured: Josh O’Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

‘It’s not unhelpful to remind people… a reminder that this is not based on any insider knowledge but is a dramatisation of somebody’s … imagination as to what might have happened.’

Ofcom was today also accused of being ‘completely powerless’ over Netflix.

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that ‘effectively’ Netflix is not regulated at all within the UK because under current rules the company is based in the Netherlands.

The leading Tory said this means that Ofcom has no power over ‘one of the major players within the marketplace’, adding that the broadcasting watchdog ‘has to hope they will be good citizens’.

He added that Netflix is using ‘Holland as almost a flag of convenience in order to escape the type of regulations we have within the UK’. 

Grilling Ofcom boss Dame Melanie, Mr Knight said: ‘You’re completely powerless when it comes to one of the major players within the marketplace right now.   

‘It’s [Netflix] something that’s playing an increasingly important role. We’ve seen this with the controversy in recent days over The Crown’s depiction of the royal family.

Mr Knight told the hearing: 'It's [Netflix] something that's playing an increasingly important role. We've seen this with the controversy in recent days over The Crown's depiction of the royal family'. Pictured: Josh O'Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Mr Knight told the hearing: 'It's [Netflix] something that's playing an increasingly important role. We've seen this with the controversy in recent days over The Crown's depiction of the royal family'. Pictured: Josh O'Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Mr Knight told the hearing: ‘It’s [Netflix] something that’s playing an increasingly important role. We’ve seen this with the controversy in recent days over The Crown’s depiction of the royal family’. Pictured: Josh O’Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Tory MPs accused actor Josh O'Connor of trying to silence criticism of The Crown. Pictured: Josh O’Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Tory MPs accused actor Josh O'Connor of trying to silence criticism of The Crown. Pictured: Josh O’Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

Tory MPs accused actor Josh O’Connor of trying to silence criticism of The Crown. Pictured: Josh O’Connor with Emma Corrin as Diana in The Crown

‘Effectively Netflix is not regulated at all within the UK and you have to hope they will be good citizens.’  

Dame Melanie admitted it was a ‘concern’ that different standards regimes applied to different types of content accessed by UK viewers. 

‘I think that’s confusing for the viewer – if you’re looking on YouTube there’s no regulation at all,’ she told the committee.   

The controversy over The Crown deepened after top Tories accused Josh O’Connor – who plays Prince Charles in the series – of trying to silence criticism of the show. 

In an interview published last week, O’Connor branded Mr Dowden’s intervention ‘outrageous’ and implied the Minister should be focusing more on helping the UK’s struggling arts industry. 

He admitted The Crown was ‘pure fiction’ but suggested viewers knew that.

Yesterday, however, three senior Tories sprang to Mr Dowden’s defence and hit back at the actor’s intervention.

Former Education Secretary Damian Hinds led the fightback, supported by former actor Giles Watling and Julian Knight, chairman of the powerful Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Mr Hinds told the Mail on Sunday: ‘Mr O’Connor says Oliver Dowden’s intervention is outrageous, but what would be truly outrageous would be trying to stop our Culture Secretary holding the streaming giant to account.

This follows Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisting the show should carry a 'fiction' disclaimer for misrepresenting the story of the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Charles and Princess Diana with a young Prince William arriving at Alice Springs airport on March 20, 1983

This follows Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisting the show should carry a 'fiction' disclaimer for misrepresenting the story of the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Charles and Princess Diana with a young Prince William arriving at Alice Springs airport on March 20, 1983

This follows Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisting the show should carry a ‘fiction’ disclaimer for misrepresenting the story of the Royal Family. Pictured: Prince Charles and Princess Diana with a young Prince William arriving at Alice Springs airport on March 20, 1983

‘Oliver has every right to call for the series to carry a disclaimer.’ 

He also made it clear that Netflix and O’Connor could not have it ‘both ways – Mr O’Connor suggesting it is ‘pure fiction’ but Netflix insisting it doesn’t have to be clear with viewers about that’. 

He added: ‘This is not some dramatisation of a novel. It is based on the lives of real people and it relays many events people will recognise, so although it contains fiction, it certainly isn’t ‘pure’ fiction.’

Mr Hinds, a member of the DCMS committee, added his voice to calls for a review of the ‘regulatory framework for these video on-demand services, which have become a huge part of our viewing’.

The Mail on Sunday has highlighted how, under current rules, Netflix is regulated by a Dutch authority because the company is based in Holland. 

In an interview published last week, O’Connor branded Mr Dowden’s intervention ‘outrageous’ and implied the Minister should be focusing more on helping the UK’s struggling arts industry

In an interview published last week, O’Connor branded Mr Dowden’s intervention ‘outrageous’ and implied the Minister should be focusing more on helping the UK’s struggling arts industry

In an interview published last week, O’Connor branded Mr Dowden’s intervention ‘outrageous’ and implied the Minister should be focusing more on helping the UK’s struggling arts industry 

But Mr Hinds said: ‘Platforms with a major presence in the UK should be covered by Ofcom, as others are.’

In his interview last week, O’Connor said the Culture Secretary’s disclaimer intervention – first revealed in the Mail on Sunday two weeks ago – was a ‘low blow’ given how the industry was struggling.

However, Mr Knight praised Mr Dowden’s efforts to support the arts in the pandemic.

In July, the Culture Secretary unveiled a £1.57billion package aimed at protecting the future of Britain’s museums, galleries and theatres.

Mr Watling insisted Mr Dowden was right to call for a disclaimer, saying of the series: ‘This is fiction. They are putting words into the mouths of people who are alive and trying to go about their business, whether they are royal or not.’

In remarks published at the weekend, Olivia Colman, who plays the Queen in The Crown’s third and fourth series, appeared to admit not all viewers would know scenes were invented for the screen. 

She said: ‘Obviously, anything behind closed doors is made up, which I assumed was obvious, but may be not.’ 

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