BBC director-general calls for ‘serious public service investment’ amid cuts

He warned Russia and China are ‘investing hundreds of millions in state backed services’ as the BBC World Service faces job losses.

Royal Television Society London Convention 2022
Royal Television Society London Convention 2022

The director-general of the BBC has called for “serious public service investment” if it is to compete with international rivals in the coming years.

Tim Davie said during a Royal Television Society event in London that the BBC needs more money to support the World Service and “avoid further cuts”.

Some 382 jobs at the service, often regarded as a source of soft power for the UK, are being lost as part of plans to move to a digital-led offering, with the Arabic and Persian radio services among those closing.

Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall engagements-London
The King during a visit to the BBC World Service (Hannah McKay/PA)

He said he plans to discuss the issue with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and warned that Russia and China are “investing hundreds of millions in state backed services”.

“We have a choice to make,” he added.

The BBC has said that due to a freeze in the licence fee and inflation it faces a £400 million funding gap by 2026/2027 and must make savings.

Mr Davie said UK media are in “a period of real jeopardy” with a “life-threatening challenge to our local media and the cultural and the social benefit they provide”.

“The threat is not about if there is choice, it is about the scope of future choice and what factors shape it,” he added.

Also announced were plans to have “fewer brands overall” and “consolidate more activity behind a simple, single brand in the UK” which he described as “the BBC”.

This echoes a recent move by Channel 4 to rebrand its video-on-demand service All 4 as “Channel 4”.

During the speech, Mr Davie described a blueprint for what the media market of the next decade could look like.

He said: “As we look to the 2030s, we are open minded about future funding mechanics.

“But we are clear that it is critical that we need a universal solution that fuels UK public service growth not stifles it while offering audiences outstanding value for money.

“Of course, the latest settlement did include the increased debt facility for BBC Studios which was welcome, and we are ambitious about its prospects.

“Alongside commercial plans, we will keep cutting costs to invest and attract more partner investment as well such as the latest deal we announced with Disney on Doctor Who.

“But under the most ambitious scenarios, this will not change the need for serious public service investment.”

Earlier this year, former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced the licence fee would be frozen at £159 for the next two years until April 2024.

She said she wanted to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 as it is “completely outdated”.

The new minister, Michelle Donelan, said this week it is “impossible” to sustain the BBC on the current licence fee model, confirming she plans to continue the Government’s review into the annual charge.

Mr Davie said the BBC, politicians, regulators and the wider industry must work together to “leave a legacy of a thriving, world leading UK media market or accept, on our watch, a slow decline”.

He also said a “switch off of broadcast will and should happen over time” and the BBC should be “active in planning for it”.

He suggested there is a “bad way it could happen” where access to the BBC is no longer universal or “unaffordable for too many”.

“Where the gateway to content is owned by well capitalised overseas companies,” he added.

In order to avoid this the country must “close gaps and guarantee accessibility for all,” he said, describing efforts by the Government to improve access to fixed-line broadband and 5G or 4G as “critical”.

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