BBC must fix ‘impartiality problems’, says Nadine Dorries as she confirms licence fee freeze

The BBC must address “impartiality and groupthink” problems, the Culture Secretary said as she confirmed the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years.

The BBC has criticised the two-year freeze, arguing it will lead to “tougher choices” that will impact on viewers.

Bosses at the corporation branded the move “disappointing” after Nadine Dorries told MPs the Government “simply could not justify putting extra pressure” on families amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Labour accused the Cabinet minister of waging a “vendetta” against the BBC, as she also confirmed a review of the licence fee’s existence in the future.

Ms Dorries said the BBC had asked for the fee to rise to over £180 by the end of the current settlement but said it will instead be fixed at £159 until April 2024 before rising with inflation for the following four years.

She argued that the freeze was necessary to help households through “difficult times”, telling the Commons: “When it comes to monthly bills, this is one of the few direct levers that we have in our control as a Government.”

BBC chairman Richard Sharp and director-general Tim Davie issued a statement arguing that there are “very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do”.

“A freeze in the first two years of this settlement means the BBC will now have to absorb inflation,” they said.

“That is disappointing – not just for licence fee payers, but also for the cultural industries who rely on the BBC for the important work they do across the UK.

“The BBC’s income for UK services is already 30pc lower in real terms than it was 10 years ago. We will set out the implications of the settlement later, before the end of the financial year, but it will necessitate tougher choices which will impact licence fee payers.”

Ms Dorries also addressed impartiality at the broadcaster, telling MPs: “In the last few months, I’ve made it clear that the BBC needs to address issues around impartiality and groupthink.” 

Those problems were highlighted definitively by the recent Serota Review with the BBC’s own leadership recognised those findings in full. But Ms Dorries said the BBC now needs to put those words into action.

She continued: “It needs to convince the British public that those changes are being made, and provide regular and transparent accounts of its progress.

“I want the BBC to continue to thrive… but this is 2022, not 1922. We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting, a BBC that can continue to engage the wider public and that commands the support of the UK, not just the London bubble.”

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Culture Secretary said ministers were “looking for someone else to blame” for Boris Johnson’s “disintegrating leadership”, as she described the BBC as “the envy of the world”. 

“What is it about the £13.57 a month that marks it out for such immediate and special attention to address the cost of living over the £1,200 increase in energy and household bills? Or the £3,000-a-year taxes increases that her Government has imposed?” she asked, accusing the Conservatives of a “vendetta” against the BBC.

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