Andy Carter, who’s the chair of the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Media Group, made clear that his views came not from a minister but from someone who had worked in commercial media, as a journalist, and as managing director of two radio groups.
A Conservative, his approach to the BBC was more of critical friend, than the occasional antagonism or thoughts of wing clipping that have been seen from Boris Johnson’s administration.
Mr Carter said some of his colleagues were “obsessed” with the BBC because of the feedback they get from their constituents, the implication being that the majority of it is negative.
However, he said there was a lack of understanding of some of the technical issues involved. “The notion of decimalisation [of the Licence Fee] is something we’re discussing at the moment. I’m not sure we’ve really understood the impact of taking from a criminal sanction to a civil penalty and how that will impact on consumers who choose not to pay for the BBC.
“We can’t just put a subscription model into place. And for someone who’s in their 70s and doesn’t have sufficient broadband, how are they going to go about receiving that subscription model? At the moment the Freeview boxes don’t let you do that.”
Mr Carter said discussions on a possible subscription model for the BBC and the direction for public broadcasting as a whole had to be held together.
DTG members, including our chairman Simon Fell, will no doubt recall the demise of On/ITV Digital and the resulting set-top box specification that no longer had a smart card slot. 20 years later, terrestrial television is hardly set up for a subscription model.
But there was praise for the BBC and the other PSBs for the roll they played around the pandemic.
There was praise for the DCMS and the knowledge held by the department, but also concern as to whether the recent government decision to bar Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks might slow the pace of broadband rollout.
With hints that the vacant posts for chair of Ofcom and the BBC might go to a political appointee, Mr Carter told delegates that no one wanted to see broadcasting politicised in the way it had been in other countries: “We need people … that really understand the challenges that the sector is going to face. And I think as far as I’m concerned, the right person for the job, no matter what colour rosette they wear. It’s the knowledge that they have and the skills that they’re going to bring to the industry. And I want a regulator that is forward thinking and understands the sector and can challenge the industry but can do right by the consumer as well. And I think that’s absolutely critical for the BBC appointment as well.”