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The broadcaster has recently appointed a new Director General as it moves into the Twenties and looks to protect its interests, while it remains as the UK’s sole public broadcasting service. Tim Davie has been at the BBC for over a decade, having briefly fulfilled the role of acting Director General in 2012 after the resignation of George Entwistle. He now faces one of the biggest challenges ever experienced by the corporation, having to juggle justifying the licence fee in an age of digital subscription models, as well as mounting pressure from the Government.
It appears that the BBC’s internet branch is what troubles it most, according to one ex-employee.
Mark Thompson served as BBC Director General from 2004 to 2012, and brought the news brand into the 21st century and digital age.
During a New Statesman interview two years before he left, Mr Thompson revealed what the real issue the BBC faced going into the future.
When asked whether the corporation was threatened more by its ideological opponents on the right, than by rival media companies with vested interests, he said: “I’m not suggesting for a moment that there is a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’.
“There is a purist free-market debate that has been going on for 20 years and still goes on, but it is a reasonable debate to have. It is a gentlemanly theoretical discussion.”
And yet he added: “I think there is something different and straightforwardly commercial about the pressure in recent years. It’s really all about the web, actually; it is not about television and radio.”
The BBC has faced mounting pressure to launch a Netflix-style subscription package.
This would, its critics argue, allow those who wish to watch and listen to things on the broadcaster on their own terms, and not be liable to any fine or prosecution if they refused to pay.
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The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter which protects the licence fee until at least 2027.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Government has taken aim at the broadcaster since he entered office last year.
Mr Johnson went as far as to ban ministers from appearing on its flagship Radio 4 political show, the ‘Today’ programme.
Many sources from the Government have in the past criticised the BBC for overreaching and becoming too big, losing sight of its original public service intentions.
A senior source told The Times: “They should have a few TV stations, a couple of radio stations and massively curtailed online presence and put more money and effort into the World Service, which is part of its core job.”
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Despite Mr Thompson warning that the BBC’s problems were to be found in the “web”, on coming to power, Mr Davie has confessed that the broadcaster’s future faces a “significant risk” and has “no alienable right to exist”.
He has already ruled out shutting TC channels or radio networks in the short term.
Although, he has said that he would “not hesitate to close channels if they do not offer value to our audiences”.
He has also pledged that the BBC will “renew our commitment to impartiality”.
He said: “It is not simply about left or right. This is more about whether people feel we see the world from their point of view.
“Our research shows that too many perceive us to be shaped by a particular perspective. If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”
Any inkling of a subscription service has been dismissed by Mr Davie, who said the introduction of a tier system would be discriminatory.
He explained that such a change in operation “would make us just another media company” that serves only “the few”.
He said: “We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group.
“We all recognise when someone says, ‘I would pay my licence fee for Radio 4, for Strictly, or for the website’. But this kind of connection is under pressure and cannot be taken for granted.
“Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us.”
Ministers have suggested the compulsory licence fee levy could be scrapped in 2027 when the Royal Charter ends.
It also said it was consulting on plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee from 2022.
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