Lord Puttnam, the award winning producer and Labour Peer, today called for the eventual abolition of the BBC licence fee in a wide-ranging review of public service television.
The respected arts grandee’s long-awaited report says that the government should seek to replace the licence fee as soon as is practically possible with a “more progressive funding mechanism”.
Among the proposed new models are a household fee or a supplement to Council Tax payments, an option which already has some supporters in Government. Another proposal put forward is “funding via general taxation with appropriate parliamentary safeguards”.
The BBC has secured the licence fee for the foreseeable future and under the terms of its new charter and financial settlement – which kicks in next year – the levy will rise in line with inflation having been frozen for the past ten years.
However, the Government has indicated that the flat fee charge, currently £145.50, is likely to become impractical in time as people are increasingly turning to other platforms and devices such as laptops and phones to access TV content.
The public service nature of other content-providing services is noted in Puttnam’s report which says such content is “increasingly being delivered outside the formal public service system”. It cites the output offered by Sky and on-demand subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon.
The report adds that a broad range of cultural institutions – including museums, performing arts institutions and community organisations – are also producing video content of a strong public service character and could benefit from public money.
Puttnam’s report also proposes a levy on the revenues of “large digital intermediaries and internet service providers” including Google help fund public service content in the UK.
The report proposes that money is collected in a fund that would disseminate digital innovation grants to “cultural institutions and small organisations that are not already engaged in commercial operations”.
The grants would not be offered to digital content providers alone but also to “other forms of digital content that have demonstrable public service objectives and purposes.”
Describing himself as a “levyist” he cited the success of the National Lottery as a mechanism for providing funding for worthy causes from commercial activities.
Puttnam chaired the report which engaged in weeks of deliberation and has been published today under the heading A Future for Public Service Television: Content and Platforms in a Digital World. It was compiled in conjunction with Godsmiths College, University of London.
In his forward to the report, the Peer considers the debate over Britain’s future in the European Union and praises the way the issues have been handled by broadcasters.
He writes: “If the past few months have taught me anything, it is that our need for trusted sources of information, comprised of tolerant balanced opinion, based on the very best available evidence, has never been greater.
“For 40 years, a mixture of distortion and parody with regards to the operation of the European Union has been allowed to continue unchallenged, to the point at which any serious discussion of its strengths and weaknesses became impossible.
“The virulence of much of the referendum debate has at times been so shocking that there seems little prospect that, whichever way the vote goes, anything like ‘normal political service’ is likely to be resumed for a very long time.
“However, whilst at times frustrating, for viewers and listeners as much as the practitioners, the UK’s public service broadcasters have, over the final weeks of the campaign, behaved with very creditable restraint and responsibility.”