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Jeremy Hunt hardens his line on the BBC licence fee as he questions the value of "niche" television channels

HUNT JEREMY OPEN NECKED SHIRT Earlier this week, Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt attacked the "insultingly" high salaries of some BBC executives whilst in a CentreRight post in March, he argued in favour of freezing the BBC licence fee.

In an interview with today's Sunday Times, he considerably hardens his rhetoric on the issue of the licence fee, which currently stands at £142.50.

He now says it was "obscene" of the BBC to demand an above-inflation increase this year, and with respect to the renegotiation of the settlement due for 2012, he says that if the Conservatives are in government:

“We think in the current climate it would be very hard to argue for any increase in the licence fee.”

Significantly, when asked whether he might seek a reduction in the licence fee if he is Culture Secretary, he replied:

“I wouldn’t rule it out.”

So where would he expect the BBC to be saving money?

He expressed scepticism about the value of the niche television channels BBC Three and BBC Four, as well as digital radio stations such as 1Xtra, 6 Music and Radio 7. Collectively these new ventures cost hundreds of millions of pounds out of a total BBC budget of £4.6 billion.

Hunt said: “The BBC needs to make a better case for investment in some of its new digital channels which have very low audiences but do cost a lot of money."

He also notes that the way the licence fee operates in practice "will have to change as technology develops” but expresses regret for the demand he made in September for the BBC to actively recruit more Conservatives. He did insist, however, that the BBC does suffer an “innate liberal bias” and that "on the whole, the kind of people who want to go to work for the BBC tend to lean more in one direction than another".

Jonathan Isaby


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