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In the Commons yesterday Christopher Chope MP introduced a Bill that would ensure revenue from the licence fee would only go to public service broadcasting.  Here are some key sections of his contribution:

The definition of public service broadcasting currently used by the BBC is useless: "The argument is that if we are to have a licence fee, income from it should be expended solely in support of public service content. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, was guest speaker at a breakfast that I was privileged to attend earlier this year that discussed Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting and content. I asked him what part of the BBC output, funded by the licence fee, was not public service content. He assured me that the definitions of the genre of public service content are so wide and all-embracing that 100 per cent. of the output of the BBC is public service content. I do not think that that accords with common sense or with the views of most people."

On 'Kirsten's Topless Ambition': "In the last few weeks, I have been confined to barracks by a health condition, and I was able to note how various programmes on BBC3 were described by the BBC itself. I did not waste time watching these programmes, but one programme caught my attention—“Kirsten’s Topless Ambition”, which was produced by the BBC, funded by taxpayers’ money and, according to the chief executive of Ofcom, is “public service content”. The BBC describes the programme on its website as “A documentary in which kids TV presenter Kirsten O’Brien must decide whether to take her clothes off for a lads’ mag to try and clinch bigger presenting jobs.” It adds that the programme “contains adult themes.” In other words, it contains smut. Why should that programme be funded out of public money raised by a poll tax—that is effectively what the licence fee is? I understand that BBC3 has very low viewing figures, and it is obviously trawling desperately to try to attract new viewers."

The need for public service broadcasting for children: "A lot of us are concerned that in the present squeeze on funding for public service broadcasting, traditional children’s programmes are losing out. The definition of “public service content” in my Bill would ensure that programmes designed to inform, educate or entertain children would have a high priority and could draw on licence fee revenue as programmes that contained public service content."

VAIZEY-ED Last October Ed Vaizey Tory Culture spokesman clashed with Mr Chope on the BBC.  Yesterday, Ed Vaizey again set out the frontbench's thinking:

"Although the licence fee has imperfections, it is probably the least worst mechanism for funding the BBC. However, we remain concerned that the BBC is set to exceed the total of private sector revenues by larger and larger margins. The free, plural media market needs a strong BBC, but it also needs strong competition. That will be increasingly difficult as the BBC gets £1 billion more in TV revenue and £300 million more in radio revenue than all commercial broadcasters combined. We have set out a range of options to try to keep the BBC within recognisable limits. First, the increase in the licence fee from £139.50 to £142.50 should be frozen—the Government and the Liberal Democrats oppose that. We have also said that the BBC should start to publish the salaries of some of its highest paid executives and broadcasters, as well as their expenses. Our licence fee payers, who pay for that, should be able to see the figures. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that it is high time the BBC was audited by the National Audit Office."

Tim Montgomerie

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