Coronavirus crisis has proved BBC can bring people together – director general

A "big debate" is needed about the future of funding the BBC after the coronavirus crisis proved it can bring the nation together, its outgoing director general said.

Speaking on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, Lord Tony Hall said the broadcaster had been able to bring the country together and cited the work of its local radio stations as an example.

He said: "I think what the Covid crisis has proved is that people in their droves – 94% of the population of the UK – have turned to the BBC for either information, education or entertainment during this crisis.

"So the question is, and by the way it's not a question that needs to be answered until 2027 when the charter comes to an end, the question is what's the best way of funding that universally so that everybody, this great democratic idea, gets something we can all share."

He added: "I hope that there will be a big debate about the best way of funding the BBC.

"I hope even when I've left I can take part in that debate and we should look at the easiest way to pay, learn from what happens in other countries, are there fairer ways to pay, but the underpinning for all that is the idea of a BBC which is providing something for everyone."

Lord Hall said 92% of the organisation was working from home during the pandemic and the broadcaster had launched its biggest ever educational programme, as well as working with arts organisations on programmes.

"I think what the Covid crisis has demonstrated is that there is still a need for a universal broadcaster that brings us together and gives us shared information, shared education and shared entertainment," he said.

Lord Hall said plans to stop free TV licences for over-75s had been delayed until August and would be reviewed by the BBC's board nearer the time.

The director general, who is due to leave in the summer, said the decision to take the BBC Three channel off linear television and put it online had been a "fantastic, creative success" which was why the decision may be reversed.

He said younger audiences had been coming back to the BBC during the lockdown, with shows such as Normal People enjoying success, and the iPlayer and Sounds apps would be developed, but not at the risk of abandoning older audiences.

Lord Hall, who said a potential loss of £125 million for the broadcaster as a result of coronavirus meant it would have to spend "wisely", was asked whether a row over equal pay was a stain on his time at the organisation.

He said: "I hope that to be solving those issues is how I will be judged."

Lord Hall did not rule out staying on longer than intended.

"Steering the BBC through this crisis from January through to now is all-absorbing and I shall do it for as long as the board want me to," he said.

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