BBC director general Tim Davie robustly defended the corporation’s license fee model at the Royal Television Society (RTS) convention on Tuesday afternoon, saying “I think the license fee is there to beat.”
The license fee is a mandatory fee every household that watches live television on any service or network must pay annually. It is currently £159 ($171) per year.
“There are loads of funding solutions you could get,” Davie said after being grilled by BBC journalist Amol Rajan. “My view is if I can’t, as editor-in-chief, act independently and impartially, then the BBC is over. Final thing is, I think you cannot separate funding model from editorial, intent and delivery.”
Davie also argue that the model was sustainable. “We can deliver the vast majority of households paying for a licence fee because they get good value from it,” he said.
When Rajan pointed out that in the previous year, 74% of the BBC’s budget came from the license fee with the remainder from commercial activities, he asked whether that ratio could ever increase in favor of commercial activities. Davie replied it was unlikely, given the figures. “To subsidise and take over from the licence fee – do the math as they say,” he said. “[The license fee] allows you to spend against your objectives in your mission.”
“I am not interested in the BBC growing at the expense of the overall market,” he added. “We don’t need more share, we need to be relevant.”
“The torture of my job and the joy of it and I love it, is I’m trying to serve everyone.”
Davie also criticized the government’s decision to freeze the license fee for two years. “I think it was the wrong decision to put us flat for two years, just to be clear. I think the BBC should have had an inflation settlement.”
Moving away from the license fee, Rajan asked Davie how non-executive board member Robbie Gibb – whom former BBC presenter Emily Maitlis recently accused of being “an active agent of the Tory party” – had helped improve the BBC. “He’s one of a very high quality board,” Davie replied. “Because, like a number of people on that board – Have we got diversity of view? Are we are we impartial?”
Davie was also grilled on the BBC’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s death earlier this month, an experience Davie called “absolutely fascinating.” Asked whether the corporation was right to cancel “Last Night of the Proms” out of respect for the Queen, he replied: “That was a 50/50 call. We probably made the right decision.”