Blair criticises ‘attacks’ on BBC amid licence fee debate

Sir Tony Blair has said it would be a “big mistake” for the Government to “jeopardise” the future of the BBC amid debate over the licence fee.

The former prime minister, 68, defended the broadcaster and described it as an “internationally renowned institution” and a positive force for the country.

However, he refused to speculate about how the BBC could be funded in the future.

Nadine Dorries comments
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries (Steve Parsons/PA)

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said on Sunday the next announcement about the fee “will be the last” – indicating a different funding model could be introduced from 2028.

And on Monday she announced the licence fee is to be frozen at £159 for two years, until 2024, after which it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years.

Sir Tony told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “When you are in a position of political leadership there are some times you like the BBC and some times you don’t.

“But I think the BBC is a great institution. It’s an internationally renowned institution.

“It does the country a lot of good, a lot of people listen to it all around the world and I think it would be a big mistake if we jeopardise it.

“Now what that means for future funding, I’ll let other people who are more expert in it than me determine.

“But I don’t like the attacks on it, I don’t think they are right and I don’t think they’re sensible for the future of the country.”

Ms Dorries’ announcement drew the ire of opposition politicians and staff at the BBC, with Labour’s shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell describing it as “cultural vandalism” and presenters Richard Bacon and Dan Walker criticising the comments.

Scotland’s Culture Secretary Angus Robertson also hit out at the UK Government for what he described as an “ideologically driven” attack on the BBC.

“We need to be concerned about threats to the BBC and Channel 4 at the present time,” he told Holyrood’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee on Thursday.

A number of alternatives to the licence fee have been floated, including an opt-in subscription service similar to that used by streaming giants such as Netflix, the introduction of advertising, or a broadband levy.