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Friday 28 February 2020


‘I doubt very much my children pay the licence fee’

Six things we learned about the BBC (and how to end homelessness) at this week’s ThinkIns

By Imy Harper and Ellie Jacobs

In this week’s ThinkIns, we heard the latest on the mounting humanitarian crisis in Syria via representatives from the White Helmets, and kicked off our universities tour on the climate crisis in Cardiff, Bristol and Southampton. We also asked “Is this the beginning of the end of the BBC?” debating the future of the public broadcaster with David Dimbleby, Amber Rudd, Ed Vaizey and others. Here’s what we learned…


1. Amber Rudd’s children don’t pay their licence fee.

“I have two children in their 20s,” said the former home secretary. “I doubt very much that they pay a licence fee.” Their excuse would be they don’t watch it (but she doesn’t much fancy the police turning up at their homes).


2. What goes on behind closed doors? 

David Dimbleby, former presenter of the BBC’s Question Time, wondered out loud: “Isn’t it curious that the licence fee is fixed behind closed doors, in private? There’s no public examination of what the licence fee should be. All the arguments we’re having here about the desirability of the BBC, arguments about whether you need to pay in as a sort of contribution to democracy to have a non-commercial news organisation that’s not lent on by right or left-wing politicians or newspapers but actually tries to be independent or impartial, that argument never comes up.” Later, Tortoise member Elizabeth Oldfield said:

“We basically want some publicly funded media organisation that holds our common life and says markets are good but markets need limits – and markets are not good at creating space for reflection on what kind of common life we want. We need to contain this sense of common ownership, not commercial ownership.”


3. It’s time to get radical

As the BBC appoints a new Director General and Chairman, it needs to be radical and bold. Is it time to take the politicians out of the game? Former MP and Home Secretary Amber Rudd said:

“The BBC needs to get on the front foot and find its own funding model which is probably a combination of… reducing the licence fee, finding additional funds from a slice of advertising, finding it from different pockets so it’s a mix of different sources so that you’re not wholly dependent on the politicians. It really matters even more that the BBC is there but it has to reform itself and it has to do so before politicians take the initiative to do it to them.”


4. Is opening the advertising tap worth it?  

Should the BBC open its mind to a small dose of advertising? Vince Onuegbu who works in the industry, said: “Advertising feels like a no brainer. It doesn’t have to be everyday for hours…it can be 30 seconds a day. That’s a massive source of income so I don’t understand why that route hasn’t been taken yet. Those adverts will also do the job of engaging my generation.”


5. The inside of the Beeb really is like the satirical comedy W1A

“A lot of garbage goes on” admitted Dimbleby, “W1A was absolutely right. There are a lot of people talking about ‘I’m head of ideas, I’m head of originality…“If I were director general of the BBC… I wouldn’t want to go in consoling the BBC that everything’s going to be all right, because everything’s not all right.”


6. Be careful what you wish for. 

Sarah Rose, Tortoise Member and Chief Consumer and Strategy Officer at Channel 4 warned:

“Any existential threat to the BBC is an existential threat to public sector television. We are in a global world now and the global players: Netflix, Amazon, Disney are coming, Apple are here. If we’re not careful we’ll wake up in 10 years time, turn on our television sets and what we’ll see will be global owned players with no Ofcom regulation and no quotas which uphold the cultural ecosystem that we are so lucky to have.”

Also heard at this week’s ThinkIns…

In Norwich – where there has recently been a decline in rough sleeping – we asked “How can we end homelessness?” Joe, who was previously homeless, explained why he felt the approach in Norwich was working:

“When I got here, there was a lot of help. I noticed it straight away. I got woken up on a doorstep. You don’t get woken up on a doorway anywhere else. I was told where to go from a team of people who you know are pushing you in the right direction. Even though sometimes I would refuse shelter, they still signed me up and gave me a chance…I’ve come a long way. I’ve got my own place. I never thought I’d get here.”


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Write to liz@tortoisemedia.com if you’re interested in contributing to our reporting on any of the subjects we’ve covered in our ThinkIns, and do join us for a ThinkIn next week:

Monday. A ThinkIn with Jonathan Sacks – Morality: why we’ve lost it and how we get it back, London, 6.30pm

Tuesday. A Breakfast ThinkIn with Sir Terry Leahy, London, 8am

Tuesday. Weekly Open News Meeting, London, 1pm

Wednesday. The Rules: How can we fix British politics? Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Grimsby, Near Arundel, Newcastle upon Tyne, The House of Commons, 6.30pm

Thursday. How do we keep love? London, 6.30pm

Thursday. A ThinkIn for International Women’s Day: How can we get equality in comedy? London, 6.30pm

Friday. A ThinkIn for International Women’s Day: None of us are equal: How can we finally achieve global gender equality? London, 8am




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