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'Political threat' to the BBC

19 October 2010

There is growing speculation that the BBC will take a massive hit in the coalition government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

BBC2’s Newsnight says that the government wants to take a £556m chunk out of the BBC’s budget by forcing the corporation to meet the cost of free television licences for the over-75s. The benefit is currently paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions. The loss of this money would effectively mean a 16% cut in the £3.45bn annual licence fee.

The MediaGuardian, meanwhile, leads today with the story the BBC has put a counter offer on the table to avoid such a huge cut to its budget. Instead, it reports the BBC has offered to pay the World Service's annual £272m-a-year running costs.

The World Service is currently funded by a Foreign Office grant that was set to be slashed by between £70m and £90m as part of the chancellor George Osborne's spending review tomorrow.

It seems clear that, whatever the outcome of these very last minute ‘negotiations’, huge sums of money are going to be stripped out of the BBC’s budget in the spending review.

Until yesterday, it looked as though the corporation was going to escape from the worst of the spending cuts. Last month the BBC Trust agreed to freeze the licence fee until March 2013, which effectively meant taking out £144m from planned BBC budgets.

Now, in a move that smacks of an 11th hour raid on its finances, the BBC looks set to take a far worse hit. This would be terrible news for programme makers and the UK’s creative community, who have already been hugely affected by the recession.

Others go further, and say that it is part of a deliberate attempt to undermine the independence of the BBC.

Respected commentator Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, had this to say on today’s speculation about possible BBC cuts the Spending Review:

“Transferring the cost of free TV licences for the over-75s from government to the BBC would be a full frontal political assault on the BBC not seen in this country for 25 years. It would mean an unprecedented cut in BBC revenues of £500 million with huge programming consequences for British viewers and listeners.

Barnett added: “The suggestion that this is justified by salaries paid to so-called stars is disingenuous. This is a naked political threat by the coalition government to BBC independence.”

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