Whittingdale: BBC future debate justified

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL TELEVISION FESTIVAL: UK Conservative government minister John Whittingdale has admitted “most people” see the BBC licence fee as “good value for money” here at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, but claims debates over its future shape are justified.

John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, made the admission during a keynote interview in which he defended the controversial licence fee agreement that made the BBC responsible for funding licences over over-75s.

“Most people think the licence fee is good value for money, but it is the case the BBC has to make a contribution” to the British economy, which is the Conservative government believes needs to be further balanced through austerity cuts.

“I’m a member of a government whose first priority was to get the economy right,” said Whittingdale. “The BBC, as a well-financed organisation, has been asked to help with that.”

Whittingdale also rubbished the claim 21st Century Fox executive chairman Rupert Murdoch had influenced the Charter renewal talks, after a suggestion government ministers had met the media mogul just prior to the negotiations.

“Any suggestion this was a deal influenced by Rupert Murdoch is just a conspiracy theory gone made,” he said. “The idea it was dictated from New York is lunacy.”

The comments came after BBC director general Tony Hall warned that further cuts to the BBC would threaten up to 32,000 jobs in the UK media industry.

Whittingdale said: “This is an opportunity for a debate, and it might be that we find the BBC should continue doing everything it does now, but it would be extraordinary not to debate that.

Furthermore, he admitted the UK pubcaster created “an amazing amount of programmes for relatively little money”, and claimed fears the government had privately taken a position to end the BBC were misfounded.

“Nobody is talking about dismantling the BBC,” he said. “This idea that there is an ideological drive to destroy the BBC is just extraordinary.”

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