Yesterday, speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, John Wittingdale MP called the TV licence fee a "poll tax" and called for the BBC to be funded from general taxation, as the BBC radio World Service currently is.
The Conservative Mr Wittingdale had already been the linchpin in the whole "can we trust TV?" debate when his committee of MPs took evidence and investigated the premium-rate quiz TV channels. This lead to the press uncovering a stream of unlawful and questionable practices by ITV, Channel 4, five and the BBC - which resulted last Friday in a damning condemnation of the leadership of these channels by lead speaker Jeremy Paxman.
Asked to elaborate further John Wittingdale explained that he would close at least on BBC television channel, BBC THREE, and an unspecified number of radio stations, scrap the licence fee and present the same income from general taxation. As almost everyone has a TV licence, the cost of collection could be lowered further this way, boosting BBC income and efficiency.
Asked about the BBC only addressing what is called "market failure", he said that the BBC should not attempt to do everything and priorities quality.
Digital Rights Management
MP was quite for DRM. He was sitting between two people who have been "agreed" to the Microsoft DRM, so it was unsurprising. Later I asked him why this was so and he said it was to protect the non-BBC creative industries - the independents feel that if BBC content were to persist on the internet their sales would drop.
However he could see the benefit if in-house BBC material were without DRM, in particular the CBeebies/CBBC output which would benefit children (who currently cannot sign the DRM agreement) at home - and potentially abroad. I suggested the "one laptop per child project" would be better with BBC content than, say stuff from foreign and commercial organisations? "National shall speak peace unto nation" is an imperative according to Mr Whittingdale's earlier comments on the BBC session.
I also asked him about BBC News 24's output - which is currently discarded internally after a couple of months - which is might be practicable to archive online without DRM, because the BBC owns the majority of the content. If the BBC announced that the channel was "Creative Commons 2.5" it would a) create a useful archive that could be linked from wikipedia etc and b) provide material for the woefully un-inflated Creative Archive. He was unsure about the idea of his own every news appearance being archive for the "long tail" but more sympathetic to that of his opponents!
I was keen to speak with John Whittingdale, MP, because I submitted the evidence about the Quiz TV that he used to start the whole "trust" thing rolling - now at a suitable critical mass I think, and so obviously I am quite enjoyed being at the centre of a storm about "trust" that ukfree.tv was partly instrumental in.
Many thanks to BBC Backstage, and all the "people from the Internet", Media Guardian and ukfree.tv supporters!
No BBC imports
Mr Wittigdale, whilst understanding the need for the BBC to comission international works, said the corporation should be prevented from bidding up prices for import series (such as Heros) which only "puts BBC money in the pockets foreign production companies"