Since Boris Johnson returned to No. 10 with a majority of 80, there’s been a growing sense that the Prime Minister and his team plan to use their newfound political capital to challenge the status quo. High on the list of institutions and conventions that they believe require a shake-up is the BBC. Today Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan began to put the meat on the bones of the government’s vision for the public service broadcaster.
In a speech at Policy Exchange on the future of media and broadcasting, the Conservative peer confirmed that the government is launching a consultation on whether to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee. She also said the government would launch a detailed and ‘open-minded’ review of the BBC’s long-term funding model. That means there is a possibility that the licence fee system could either be scrapped or reformed when the BBC’s current royal charter expires in 2027. In a taste of things to come, Morgan suggested that the BBC could be heading for the same fate as the defunct video rental chain Blockbuster if it fails to adapt to the changing media landscape.
What change does the government wish to see? Expect a focus on the BBC’s remit – and what counts as public interest journalism. The timing of Tony Hall stepping down means that Johnson won’t have influence in picking the next director-general as the current BBC chairman makes the decision. However, Johnson will get to choose the next chairman of the BBC. Expect that to be someone who wants to move the Beeb away from the licence fee model. Johnson takes the view that politics is downstream from culture. In 2012, he wrote: ‘If we can’t change the Beeb, we can’t change the country’. That change is coming.