BBC Trust submits news funding consultation

Sunday, September 27 2009, 18:34 BST

By Mayer Nissim,

The BBC Trust has published its submission to the government's recent Digital Britain consultation on the funding options for news at national, regional and local levels.

In its response, the Trust again rejected the plan to 'top-slice' the licence fee to fund regional news and noted other options, including BBC partnerships, radio content deregulation, online TV opportunities and the release of the analogue spectrum.

Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said: "The Trust strongly believes it is important for there to be other providers of local and regional news in the UK alongside the BBC. We also recognise the structural challenges that the commercial sector faces.

"But top-slicing the licence fee is the wrong answer - it would undermine the BBC's independence and its direct accountability to licence fee payers, it would risk turning the licence fee into general taxation and we do not believe any ring-fenced amount could be contained."

He added: "There are other solutions for supporting regional and local news and it is not too late to consider them. We believe that contestable funding could harm the PSB ecosystem.

"But if it proves necessary, other options include harnessing the value of the broadcast spectrum that will be freed up in 2014 for the benefit of commercial operators, which our estimates suggest will net around £130 million a year.

"And for options which don't involve direct financial support, the BBC has set out proposals to share know-how and facilities with other media outlets, and Ofcom is currently consulting on the possibility of changing media ownership laws to help support commercial news providers."

Lyons said that any leftover money from the digital switchover fund would be returned to the government, who should give it back to the public via a reduction of the future licence fee.