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Tories will have freer hand to dictate media policy

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08 May 2015

With the Conservatives set for a majority in parliament, they will now have a greater opportunity to dictate media policy than when in Coalition with the Lib Dems.

The Conservative manifesto picked out two areas of action specific to the broadcasting and production sector: notably the BBC licence fee and tax credits for the creative industries.

The Tories have traditionally been cooler towards the BBC than either former coalition partners the Lib Dems or Labour.

In their manifesto, the Conservatives offered qualified support for the BBC, saying: “We will deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC Royal Charter, ensuring it delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, while maintaining a world class service and supporting our creative industries. That is why we froze the BBC licence fee and will keep it frozen, pending Charter renewal” [in 2016].

This implies that the Tories might bear down on the BBC budget in the next Charter settlement. It’s a prospect that will worry many in the creative sector, particularly the thriving independent production sector for whom the BBC is the largest commissioner in the market.

The Conservatives added that they will “continue to ‘top slice’ the licence fee for digital infrastructure to support superfast broadband across the country.”

The rapidly negotiated licence fee settlement of 2010 established this precedent, with BBC income used for broadband roll out as well as the World Service and Jeremy Hunt’s Local TV experiment.

The Conservatives also used their manifesto to pledge to continue tax reliefs for the creative industries, which have boosted areas such as film, TV drama and animation. “We will continue these reliefs, with a tax credit for children’s television next year, and expand them where possible.”

Tellingly there was no mention in the Tory manifesto about the future of Channel 4. Press speculation in the run up to the election suggested that the Conservatives were looking at privatising the broadcaster, hoping to raise some £1bn for the Treasury.

However, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey played down this speculation in a BBC Media Show interview last month.

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