Alarm over BBC future as UK proposes fee changes

Britain's government announced Wednesday Feb. 5, 2020, that it is considering a change in the way the nation's public broadcaster, the BBC is funded. (File/AP/Frank Augstein)
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Updated 05 February 2020

Alarm over BBC future as UK proposes fee changes

  • The proposal to decriminalize non-payment sparked alarm, against a backdrop of tensions between the BBC and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party
  • Currently set at £154.50 ($202) a year, the license fee generated £3.69 billion for the BBC last year, allowing it to operate free from commercial constraints

London: The British government on Wednesday announced plans to stop prosecuting people who do not pay the BBC’s compulsory subscription fee, sparking concerns about the broadcaster’s future funding.
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said that in an era of streaming services such as Netflix, all public service broadcasters “must adapt.”
And she said it was “an anachronism” that anyone refusing to pay the license fee — an annual levy on everyone watching BBC television — could face a fine or even jail.
But the proposal to decriminalize non-payment sparked alarm, against a backdrop of tensions between the BBC and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.
The Tories have accused the broadcaster of political bias — a charge it denies.
Johnson refused to take part in a major BBC interview in December’s election, while ministers are now boycotting the flagship BBC news show, Radio 4’s “Today.”
Currently set at £154.50 (183 euros, $202) a year, the license fee generated £3.69 billion for the BBC last year, allowing it to operate free from commercial constraints.
In a speech in London, Morgan admitted that removing the threat of prosecution would “almost certainly” see a funding cut.
The BBC previously said it would cost around £200 million.
But Morgan denied the proposed change was “any kind of attack on the BBC,” which she said was an “incredibly important organization.”
The corporation’s latest annual report found that 91 percent of UK adults use BBC television, radio or online each week, for an average of 18 hours — both down slightly on previous years.
The consultation, for changes due to come into effect in April 2022, comes just five years after a review into license fee enforcement recommended no change.
“There is a question about what issue this repeat consultation is trying to solve,” a BBC spokeswoman said.
Philippa Childs, head of the broadcasting trade union Bectu, said it “makes no sense.”
“It appears it is wholly motivated by the current government’s apparent obsession with undermining the BBC at every opportunity,” she said in a statement.
Morgan noted that in 2015, a license fee was not required to watch BBC content online. Since then, the BBC has also decided to scrap free licenses for people aged over 75.
But Tracy Brabin, culture spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour party, warned: “The future of the BBC is under serious threat from this Conservative government.
“Decriminalizing non-payment of the license fee will leave the corporation without a predictable income and potentially hundreds of millions of pounds short.
“The BBC as a public broadcaster is highly valued and something we should fight to protect.”
The consultation comes at a particularly challenging time for the BBC.
Its director-general, Tony Hall, is stepping down later this year and it recently announced plans to cut 450 newsroom jobs.
The license fee model is guaranteed until 2027 but the government has indicated it is looking at different ways to do this in future.
In 2018, more than 121,000 people were convicted of evading the license fee and fined an average of £176, the government said.
The BBC said only five people in England and Wales were jailed for non payment of such fines.


Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

Updated 20 February 2020

Qatar’s BeIN chairman, two others indicted in bribery case

  • Former FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke charged with accepting bribes, among others
  • Al-Khelaifi charged with inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement

GENEVA: Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was charged Thursday by Swiss federal prosecutors in connection with a wider bribery investigation linked to World Cup television rights.

The office of Switzerland’s attorney general filed an indictment charging Al-Khelaifi with inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

The Qatari football and television executive, however, no longer faces an accusation of bribery. Following a three-year investigation, FIFA reached an “amicable agreement” with Al-Khelaifi last month, prosecutors said, to drop its criminal complaint relating to the awarding of 2026 and 2030 World Cup rights to Qatari broadcaster BeIN Sports.

Al-Khelaifi is the head of Doha-based BeIN Sports and also a member of the UEFA executive committee.

Al-Khelaifi was indicted for his alleged part in providing Valcke — who had influence over the awarding of World Cup rights until being removed from office in 2015 — with use of a luxury villa in Sardinia without paying rent valued at up to €1.8 million ($1.94 million).

Valcke was charged with accepting bribes, “several counts of aggravated criminal mismanagement … and falsification of documents.”

For the first time in the five-year investigation of FIFA business, Swiss prosecutors revealed that they believe Valcke received kickbacks totaling €1.25 million to steer World Cup rights toward favored broadcasters in Italy and Greece.

A third person who was not identified was charged with bribery over those payments and also for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.

Al-Khelaifi was appointed to the UEFA executive committee, representing European football clubs, one year ago despite being implicated in the bribery case. He is also an influential board member of the European Club Association, which is seeking to drive reforms in the Champions League to favor elite clubs such as French champion PSG.

He denied wrongdoing after being questioned in 2017 and 2019 in connection with criminal proceedings opened three years ago.

Al-Khelaifi has also been implicated in a separate corruption investigation by French prosecutors that is linked to Qatar seeking hosting rights for the track and field world championships. Doha hosted the 2019 edition.