Britain’s Conservative-led government is reportedly planning to freeze a key source of public funding for the British Broadcasting Corporation, one of the most trusted sources of news and a producer of some of the most popular television entertainment in the country.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper reported that the controversial proposal to freeze the yearly household tax that funds the BBC’s work could cost the broadcaster as much as £2 billion ($2.7 billion) over the next six years, in a move that has attracted criticism on social media from artists and opposition politicians.
Following months of negotiation between the BBC and the government, the Mail reported that a settlement had been reached on the tax, which is mandatory for households who watch or record BBC programming every year – and represents its largest source of income.
The proposal would freeze the cost of the BBC license fee at its current rate of £159, or about $217, for the next two years. The fee would end entirely after 2027 and be replaced with a different funding model, according to the Mail, one “which reflects the growing domination of subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.”
“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is leading the negotiations, wrote on Twitter, sharing a link to an article about the end of tense negotiations.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport did not respond to a request for comment.
The question of what to do about the BBC license fee has been the subject of a long-running debate in the United Kingdom, because the current funding model is set by a charter that is due to expire in 2027.
Polls show the British public generally view the BBC, the institution many Brits nickname “the Beeb” positively. According to the 2021 Reuters Digital News Report, BBC News is also among the five most trusted news brands in the United States.
But a 2016 survey funded by the government showed that about a third of Brits were in favor of reducing the license fee and another third favored freezing the fee.
Multiple local news outlets quoted a BBC source as saying of the government’s proposals that “anything less than inflation would put unacceptable pressure on the BBC finances after years of cuts.”
The government has said freezing the license fee is necessary to help people deal with the rising cost of living, as the Bank of England forecasts that inflation could reach 6 percent in the spring, with the pandemic entering its third year.
The move comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is engulfed in scandal over revelations that a series of parties were held at 10 Downing Street while the country was in lockdown.
The BBC has been forced to defend itself against some Conservative politicians who say its coverage is biased against the government. Dorries, the culture secretary, has accused the broadcaster of “groupthink.”
“We’re having a discussion about how the BBC can become more representative of the people . . . who pay the license fee, and how it can be more accessible to people from all backgrounds, not just people whose mum and dad worked there, and how it can become, once again, that beacon for everybody,” Dorries said in October.
The government has previously vowed to look at how to reform the BBC’s funding model. But a parliamentary committee tasked with producing a report on public service broadcasting said last year that it found no viable alternatives to the license fee to fund the BBC in the short term.
The announcement in the Mail sparked controversy on social media and among opposition politicians, including Lucy Powell, a member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, who suggested that details of the proposed settlement should have been shared with Parliament.
Layla Moran, a member of Parliament for the Liberal Democrats, said the funding cut to the BBC would jeopardize the government’s “Global Britain” plan to amplify the United Kingdom’s standing in the world post-Brexit.
Various artists took to Twitter to support the BBC, which in addition to news, has put on some of the country’s most popular television programs, including “The Blue Planet,” the nature docuseries narrated by David Attenborough.
Armando Iannucci, Scottish producer and writer best known for directing the 2017 film “The Death of Stalin” and creating the series “Veep,” accused the government of underestimating “the level of support, admiration and respect the public has” for the BBC.