Plans to share BBC licence fee

Last updated at 11:39 22 April 2004

British media regulator Ofcom has announced that changes are needed in the public-service requirements for broadcasters like ITV, including an end to strict quotas for religious and news programming.

The current standards are quite exacting, requiring 208 hours of current affairs programming per year for Channel Four and 52 hours of religious programming for Channel Five, for example.

Low ratings mean lost revenue

"If there are boxes broadcasters have to tick, (public service broadcasting) doesn't do very well," said Ofcom's Ed Richards. "We want a more creative approach."

Richards said there was little point in public-service programming unless it was compelling enough to draw in a significant number of viewers.

Public-service broadcasts tend to have dismal ratings, though there are exceptions, such as Channel Four's popular cooking show, "Jamie's Kitchen", which qualified as educational programming.

BBC funded by licence fees

That does not matter so much for the BBC, which is funded by a mandatory licence fee paid by television-set owners, but for the other broadcasters, including publicly owned, commercially funded Channel 4, low ratings mean lost revenue.

ITV in particular has criticised the public-service broadcasting requirements and the amount of money it pays to rent broadcast spectrum. If costs do not come down, Chief Executive Charles Allen has said, the UK's largest commercial broadcaster may forsake analogue television and move to a digital platform like BSkyB or Freeview.

Ofcom's report on Wednesday said that unless changes are made to the current system, multichannel television and shrinking audiences for the UK's five terrestrial channels would mean trouble for public service broadcasting.

"First, increasing competition is likely to reduce the funds available to broadcasters to meet their current programming obligations," the report states.

Broadcasters to share BBC licence fees

"Second, the fragmentation of the audience may weaken the justification for a large amount of direct or indirect public funding for broadcasting."

Ofcom said the BBC, still mired in controversy after a damning judicial report prompted the resignation of its top two officials, must set the standard for public-service broadcasting.

It also said that other broadcasters could be eligible for a share of the licence fee that currently goes solely to the BBC.

The regulator questioned whether the BBC should continue with its commercial and production activities, and raised doubts about the BBC's aggressive scheduling against other networks and its airing of American programming.


In the wake of Lord Hutton's report into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly, which criticised the BBC's editorial operations and oversight, there have been calls for Ofcom to regulate the BBC, which is currently overseen by an independent board of governors.

The BBC issued a statement saying it would "respond to Ofcom's long-term propositions once we have had time to fully explore the evidence put forward in their report today."

Parliament is currently conducting a review of the BBC's governing charter.

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