BBC attacks license fee proposals

Thompson claims plot to undermine pubcaster's funding

LONDON -- Signaling a looming row with regulators and government, BBC director general Mark Thompson on Wednesday hit out at plans to share the BBC license fee with ailing commercial rivals -- so-called "top-slicing" -- and accused "a small number of people" within the regulators and government of trying to undermine the pubcaster's funding mechanism.

Speaking on "The Media Show" on BBC Radio 4 Wednesday, Thompson said there was "a suspicion" that government and regulators plans were aimed at forcing the BBC to give up control of the license fee on ideological grounds.

"There is a suspicion that for some years now there has been a small group of people who have been ideologically focused more on the principle of getting a wedge into the license fee and trying to prove a point about the principle of top-slicing, rather than having a particular urgent need," Thompson said.

"When Ofcom was interested in a public service publisher (an annual fund to support high-quality non-BBC programming), it was going to cost about £100 million ($165.2 million) and the license fee looked like a good source for that. Then it was Channel 4 that was going to need perhaps £100 million and the license fee was a good source for it. Now, we are told regional news might need £100 million," he said.

His comments come a week after the government's white paper on broadcasting, Digital Britain, proposed a consultation on using £130 million ($214.7 million) of BBC money to support local news rivals so that the pubcaster was not the monopoly provider of local and regional news in the U.K.. The report's author, broadcasting minister Stephen Carter, was formerly chief executive of Ofcom.

Thompson's comments also came on the same day that the BBC's oversight board, the BBC Trust, called for "greater care" over issues of taste and decency in the wake of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross debacle, and said the BBC should scale back the use of "offensive" language between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m..

But the Trust also insisted that BBC execs should not fight shy of creative or challenging material, as long as it was not "aggressive intrusive or humiliating."
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