Claims freeze on fee is contrary to public interest

LONDON — The BBC has warned the politicians likely to form the next British government that their attitude toward the pubcaster’s funding risks undermining its political independence.

BBC Trust head Michael Lyons said that Conservative Party plans to freeze the BBC’s annual license fee, paid by all households with a TV, are contrary to the public interest.

The Conservatives are surging in local opinion polls due to economic woes and accusations of government abuse of expenses, and they are widely expected to defeat the ruling Labor Party in next year’s general election.

Traditionally less sympathetic to the BBC than Labor, the Conservatives want to cap the BBC license fee, which raises around £3.5 billion ($5.4 billion) a year, rather than allow it to increase in line with inflation.

In a feisty speech, Lyons, an ally of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, claimed that this was “a recipe for curbing the editorial independence of the BBC.”

He added: “The traditional system of multiyear funding agreements — the current one runs for six years — underpins the BBC’s editorial independence.

“It means that BBC journalists, for example, never have to trim to the short-term prevailing political wind in order to avoid upsetting the latest license fee negotiation.”

Lyons, speaking in London Tuesday to the Royal Television Society, also opposed diverting license fee money to help the private media sector, suffering from a lack of advertising coin, pay for their public service broadcasting commitments, such as local news programs.

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