Broadcaster Andrew Marr defends BBC licence fee

BBC journalist Andrew Marr has defended the licence fee – insisting working for a publicly-funded broadcaster allows him to remain impartial.

The veteran political journalist said the audience for his Sunday morning programme, The Andrew Marr Show, would consist of people from across the political spectrum and he owed it to them to be fair in his questioning of politicians.

Recent newspaper reports have suggested the Government wants to axe the TV licence fee and fund the BBC through viewer subscriptions.

Marr suggested a subscription-based model would not be popular with other broadcast rivals, such as Sky and Netflix, who charge a monthly fee, as it would be more competition.

“When it comes to the licence fee, there’s clearly a big problem,” Marr said.

“I think there is a bigger philosophical difference, which is at the moment every time I walk onto the set of The Andrew Marr Show I remind myself of the people watching include people that have been voting for Ukip and to the right of Ukip, and people who were enthusiastic members of Momentum and Corbynites, and everything in between.

“They have all paid the licence fee and in a sense they will own part of me, and therefore my job is to try to be as fair-minded and as open-minded in every direction as possible.”

Marr, who was speaking at the digital Cheltenham Literature Festival, said he feared for a “different relationship” if the BBC had subscribers.

“People can dislike me or dislike my questions but if they finished the show and think, ‘He is trying his best to be fair’ then I’ve done my bit for the BBC,” Marr said.

“If I’m only thinking of those paying a subscription – customers – it is just a different relationship.

“I think that worries me. Whether it is the licence fee or some other form public funding, I think there is a case for having something that is not purely commercial.

“That means I can concentrate and can remind myself that the BBC belongs to everybody, not just the people paying the monthly subscription.”

Marr described the new BBC director-general Tim Davie as a “toughie” and a “street fighter”.

“I don’t know him very well and I’ve met him a couple times, and I knew him by reputation before he got the job,” he said.

“He has a very, very strong understanding of the difficult commercial environment the BBC is in because he comes from the commercial sector.”

Davie took over the job from Lord Hall, who spent seven years in the role, amid a turbulent time for the BBC.

The broadcaster faces scrutiny over equal pay, diversity, free TV licences for the over-75s and competition from streaming services such as Netflix, as well as the on-going coronavirus crisis.