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BBC chairman: “A degree of reality” needed in licence fee conversation

Broadcaster "would not be the BBC that the nation knows and values" with a subscription model

The BBC’s chairman David Clementi will tell the government it is time for “a degree of reality” in the discussions around the Corporation’s future funding.

In a speech due to be delivered today, Clementi will warn that scrapping the licence fee for a subscription model would mean the broadcaster would “not be the BBC that the nation knows and values and, behind a paywall, it would not be available to everyone.”

Clementi’s words are in response to culture secretary Nicky Morgan who has previously mooted the idea of turning the BBC into a subscription-style model like Netflix. Morgan said that the government wants to have some “difficult conversations” about whether the licence fee remains in place beyond the BBC’s current charter period of 2027.

The BBC chairman is expected to spell out exactly what this change could mean for some of the BBC’s services and why the corporation should not be taken for granted.

He will list some of the BBC’s leading services that could be threatened by a move to subscription, including regional news and radio, children’s content, the BBC World Service, and moments that bring “the country together” like the Olympics or the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, which was watched by nearly 18 million viewers. “It’s clear that a discussion of what sort of BBC we want must run in parallel with the debate about its funding, since the two are inextricably linked,” Clementi is expected to say.

The government “should not rush to short-term decisions which unravel not just the current charter, but the wider creative ecology,” Clementi will warn. “A decision of this scale — taking hundreds of millions out of the BBC and the creative economy — must not be taken in isolation.”