BBC Trust chairman warns on independence

Michael Lyons concerned about license fee proposals

LONDON -- BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons Tuesday warned that the pubcaster is facing increased political interference in its output, branding a debate on changing the BBC's license fee in the House of Commons Wednesday "a recipe for curbing the independence of the BBC."

In a speech hosted by the Royal Television Society, Lyons told an audience of executives and policy makers that the BBC Trust -- the publcaster's oversight committee -- was "concerned" by proposals that would freeze the BBC's license fee at 2009 levels, rather than increasing annually over a six-year period as had earlier been agreed.

"Tomorrow, for example, Parliament debates a proposal to break the current six-year license-fee settlement and freeze the ($216 per-household) annual license fee for the current year...that is a recipe for curbing the independence of the BBC."

The proposal, which has been put forward by the opposition Conservative Party, is unlikely to carry enough Parliamentary support to change this year's BBC funding. But it stands as a warning to the BBC that if the Conservative party regain power at the next election, the pubcaster will face more opposition to its £3.5 billion ($5.4 billion) a year guaranteed income.

Lyons said that the traditional system of multi-year funding agreements was necessary to underpin the BBC's editorial independence, and meant BBC journalists "never have to trim to the short-term prevailing political wind in order to avoid upsetting the latest license fee negotiation."

Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative spokesman on media and culture, said the guaranteed increase to the license fee did not reflect the impact of the deflationary recession the U.K. is living through

"It seems completely wrong that the BBC is getting an inflation rise when there is no inflation," he told the Guardian newspaper.

"The BBC's income was traditionally on a par with the income for the commercial sector but now that advertising is suffering it is getting on to double what the commercially funded sector is getting" he concluded.