Oliver Dowden: I don’t want to send signal that it’s OK not to pay TV licence

The Culture Secretary has said he does not want to send a signal that it is legitimate to not pay the TV licence.

Oliver Dowden made the comment to MPs as the Government prepares to publish its response to a consultation on decriminalisation.

He also denied that decriminalising licence fee evasion was an agenda set out by Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser.

The BBC has warned that switching to a civil system would cost the broadcaster more than £200 million a year.

Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings

“I do think there are major challenges around decriminalisation which we continue to consider,” Mr Dowden told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

“I am concerned that… we do not send a signal that it’s acceptable not to pay your TV licence. So, I’d be concerned around sending signals around non-payment.”

He added that there are “wider questions around the funding of the BBC”.

Mr Dowden “took issue” with an MP’s suggestion it was “a Dom Cummings agenda”.

And his comments came as the Government published an advert for the new BBC chairman.

“I’ve had conversations with him about many things but I’ve never had a conversation with him once about the BBC or decriminalisation or anything else like that,” he said of Mr Cummings.

This morning we'll be putting questions to @OliverDowden, Secretary of State for @DCMS. We'll be sharing key points on this thread, but you can also watch live from 9.30 here: https://t.co/RNb4SXDBBD@julianknight15pic.twitter.com/Zszu9CPbJr

— Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsDCMS) October 14, 2020

Asked whether it appeared that the Government would not be going down the road of decriminalisation, he said: “There are legitimate questions about whether people should ultimately face a criminal sanction… I think it was appropriate that we looked at that. The Government is now considering its response.”

And he added: “There are many other big decisions we have to take around the BBC, not least the licence fee settlement.”

He denied offering Charles Moore, the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, the job of BBC chairman.

Boris Johnson’s first choice to be chairman reportedly ruled himself out of the running earlier this month.

And he said he was looking for “a strong, credible figure who can hold the BBC to account, to ensure that we have strong and effective corporate governance of the BBC, a proper challenge of the BBC”.

He is “particularly concerned to ensure that the BBC returns to its core values of impartiality and takes the opportunity to develop in this rapidly moving digital landscape…”.

Public service broadcasters, including Channel 4, will be reviewed
Public service broadcasters, including Channel 4, will be reviewed

“Does the BBC as much reflect the values of somebody living in a semi in Leigh outside Manchester as they do reflecting the values of someone living in a loft apartment near Old Street roundabout in London?”, he said.

The committee hearing came as the Government prepares to announce a panel to review public service broadcasting.

The possible privatisation of Channel 4 could be on the cards.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable that given the massive changes in the public service broadcasting landscape… we review the public service broadcasting landscape and of course all options need to be on the table,” Mr Dowden said.

Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson accused the Government of being too scared to appear on Channel 4 News.

“The problem is you guys really hate Channel 4 News. There’s always a slight hint of menace about the way you talk about it,” he said.

“Your own Prime Minister… is too scared to appear…. There’s a boycott of Channel 4 News because it’s so effective at pinning him down.”