Boris Johnson has cornered the BBC into giving him positive coverage in the run-up to election day by saying that “the possible abolition of the BBC licence fee needs looking at”.
Speaking at a rally in Sunderland, many sceptics say a man was planted to ask the prime minister how much longer funding a broadcaster out of “a general tax” could be “justified”.
Ministers have agreed the licence fee will stay in place until at least 2027, when the BBC’s Royal Charter ends.
The fee for a colour TV licence is currently £154.50 a year. It will rise in line with inflation until 2022.
Licence fee income was worth £3.6bn to the BBC in 2018-9, accounting for approximately 75% of the broadcaster’s revenues and funding TV, radio and online content. Last year, 25.8 million households had TV licences.
The government and the BBC are currently involved in a dispute over the funding of free TV licences for the over-75s.
Mr Johnson was asked by a member of the public whether he would consider axing all TV licences.
The prime minister said that, while he would not make up policy with three days to go before the election, it was an issue that was worth “looking at” in the future.
“You have to ask yourself whether that approach to funding a media company still makes sense in the long term given the way that other organisations manage to fund themselves,” he said.
“The system of funding out of what is a general tax bears reflection. How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels.”
Various alternatives to the licence fee have been floated over the years, including subscription services or a compulsory broadcasting levy.