U.K. Minister Accuses BBC of Having "Imperial" Ambitions

George Osborne H 2014
AP Images/Invision

The comment comes after the new Conservative government and the public broadcaster agreed that the latter would foot the $1 billion bill for license fee payers over the age of 75.

Following a week that saw the BBC announce it was cutting more than 1,000 jobs due to a shortfall of $233 million in revenue from its license fee, with an unexpected rise in households claiming they do not watch live TV, the U.K. public broadcaster has come under renewed fire from the new Conservative government.

On Monday, it was confirmed that the BBC would lose $1.01 billion in funding when a new U.K. budget is announced on Wednesday. George Osborne, who is chancellor, the U.K. equivalent of a finance minister, will shift the financial responsibility of the 4.5 million free £145.50 ($227) TV licenses for those over the age 75 — currently covered by Britain's Department for Work and Pensions — to the broadcaster. The figure represents a fifth of the total $5.76 billion the BBC receives annually from license fees. Culture secretary John Whittingdale said the change would be phased in from 2018-19, with the BBC bearing the full cost by 2020-21.

In an additional attack, Osborne has accused the BBC of being “imperial in its ambitions,” saying that its website should not be looking to “completely crowd out” the U.K.’s daily newspapers.

“What is The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail or The Sun or The Daily Mirror going to look like in 10 years’ time? It is going to be an online paper probably,” he said on a current affairs show on BBC One. “If you’ve got a website that’s got features and cooking recipes — effectively the BBC website becomes the national newspaper, as well as the national broadcaster. There are those sorts of issues we need to look at very carefully.”

In response to the added license fee bill, the BBC is expected to be allowed to charge for its iPlayer video-on-demand service, which is currently free.

Speaking about the initial job cuts, BBC director general Tony Hall said that the broadcaster was facing "difficult choices" due to the financial climate, adding that many of the cuts would come from professional and support areas, with management structures to be streamlined.

July. 6, 8:05 a.m. Updated to include confirmation that BBC will foot license fee bill for over-75s.