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BBC head defends license fee as critical for quality

A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris
A pedestrian walks past a BBC logo at Broadcasting House in central London October 22, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of the BBC, Tony Hall, will defend the British broadcaster's use of a license fee paid by the public this week as a debate over funding escalates following a spate of scandals over mismanagement and waste at the corporation.

Hall, who took over as director general at the BBC last April, will use a speech in Oxford on Wednesday to dismiss calls by some critics for the 3.7 billion pound ($6 billion) a year license fee to be shared with other broadcasters.

Every UK household with a television pays 145.50 pounds a year to the BBC but this agreement ends late in 2016 and the government has to negotiate a new 10-year deal with the corporation in a climate of austerity as Britain seeks to rein in its budget deficit.

With the BBC's reputation battered over the past 18 months, critics including some ex-senior BBC executives have suggested alternative funding, such as sharing the license fee with other broadcasters, advertising, or outsourcing to the private sector.

But Hall will argue that sharing, or "top-slicing", the license fee would weaken the BBC and UK broadcasters generally and negatively impact the quality of content.

"The fragmentation of the license fee risks de-stabilizing a broadcasting model that works," Hall will tell the Oxford Media Convention according to notes released by the BBC.

"By weakening the BBC, you also weaken the competitive intensity that underpins the success of UK broadcasting."

Hall will note that his battle to protect the license fee after 2016 is no longer about whether to scrap the system.

"Instead of saying that the license fee is so bad that no one should have it, (critics) have begun to suggest the license fee is so good that everyone should have it," Hall will say.

But Hall will also make it clear that the BBC needs to continue to justify the public money it receives. Political oversight of the BBC has grown recently, with management called before several parliamentary hearings in the past year.

Although the BBC has made savings, he will stress the corporation needs to look harder if the public are to be 100 percent confident of getting the best value for money.

Public confidence in the BBC has suffered over the past 18 months in a series of controversies.

They included the handling of a child sex scandal involving former TV host Jimmy Savile, a row over large severance payments to executives, a failed 100 million pound digital project, and reports of workplace bullying.

A YouGov survey earlier this month found 42 percent of respondents thought the BBC offered good value for money, down one percentage point from July last year, while an unchanged 48 percent said it did not. The rest did not know.

About a third of respondents said the BBC should continue to be funded by a license fee but another third said commercial advertising should fund the corporation.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Stephen Addison)

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