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The BBC has been set objectives that reflect the benefits. It is defined by its goals as a public service, not only its programming output. The 2005 charter review Green Paper, entitled “A strong BBC, independent of government”, states:

Like the hon. Member for Teignbridge, I find that “The Archers” fulfils those three criteria wonderfully: it informs, educates and entertains. I have listened to it for more years than I care to remember.

We recognise the positive contribution that broadcasting can make to the effective functioning of democracy. While people continue to watch television and listen to radio in such large numbers, we are determined that the public should get the service that they need and deserve, and that the BBC should retain the potential to deliver those benefits.

The hon. Member for Wantage referred to the ability to innovate that the licence fee grants. That is an important part of its benefit to the public. Audiences would not reap the full benefit of that sort of innovation or of the information, education and entertainment that the BBC currently supplies without large-scale public funding.

The Green Paper continues:

Anyone who has spent time in another country such as the United States, where there are a couple of good public service channels, will realise that the permeation—the mainstreaming—of the public service ethos that pertains in this country does not exist there. I would personally be sad to lose it.

We value television’s ability to interest us in new ideas and the way in which it can reflect other communities’ lives. We need to spend public money on that and we need the BBC for that.

The Green Paper goes on:

Richard Younger-Ross: The Under-Secretary makes a valid point. Does she accept that one of the problems with commercial stations is the amount of time given to news? There is always a conflict in those stations between the journalists, who want longer news broadcasts, and the programmers, who want more adverts and music, and less information and news?

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Barbara Follett: That is a problem. The 30-second soundbite that politicians are traditionally allowed on the perhaps less pressured stations tends to be reduced to 20 or 15 seconds on commercial radio stations in my area, which is the eastern region and Hertfordshire. One tends to get a great deal of music, quite a lot of advertising and not much information, but people like to have that information.

The Green Paper continued:

Hon. Members might be interested to learn that the annual percentage share of BBC 1 fell from 30.8 per cent. in 1997 to 22 per cent. in 2007 and that the annual percentage share of BBC 2 fell from 11.6 per cent. in 1997 to 8.5 per cent. in 2005.

The Green Paper continued:

I know that the BBC ticker runs constantly across the top of many hon. Members’ television screens in the House and on those of their staff. Indeed, it is often how we are alerted to breaking news.

The Green Paper continued:

For instance, the BBC broke new ground in its coverage of the Olympics in 2004, by backing it up on the internet and the radio. Indeed, that has now become usual for television and radio programmes. For instance, we can now go online and watch the “Today” programme in action in the studio, which is an innovation.

I hope that hon. Members were as impressed as I was with the BBC’s extensive coverage of this year’s Olympics games and of Team GB’s triumphant march through London yesterday. The Beijing games were the first time that viewers could watch the Olympics in high definition, on the BBC HD channel. I understand that all in all there were about 300 hours of coverage.

In looking at options for funding, the Green Paper came down unequivocally for public funding of broadcasting. The charter review did, however, consider options other than the licence fee for funding the BBC. They included direct funding from the Government, commercial funding for a free-to-air service through advertising, sponsorship and commercial funding for a pay-TV service through subscription.

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Many hon. Members have given the issue some thought, just as the charter did, too. However, let me quote what the Green Paper said about direct Government funding:

which would address the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) has made about the licence fee tending to be regressive. The Green Paper continued:

that status.

Mr. Chope: Why does the Minister think that that argument does not apply to the £250 million of funding that goes each year to the BBC World Service?

Barbara Follett: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the BBC World Service. As someone who has been a consumer of it quite often, I find it very good, but not as in depth as some of the services that we get here. We can see some of the commercial considerations at play there, particularly in countries with quite a high level of advertising. For example, outside Britain, we can see BBC World with advertising.

Mr. Chope: I think that the hon. Lady misunderstood me. I was not talking about BBC Worldwide; I was talking about the BBC World Service on the radio, which is funded directly by taxpayers’ money.

Barbara Follett: Yes; in fact, that funding comes through the Foreign Office. I am sorry that I got the two confused. I think that, because it is a smaller, niche programme with a particular aim, it is possible to fund it in that way, but the best model that we have at the moment for a public service broadcaster is the one that we are currently using.

Richard Younger-Ross: I listened to the BBC World Service a great deal when I worked in Iraq; it was very important to me. I was in Iraq in 1982, during the Falklands war, and I remember the then Conservative Government putting pressure on the BBC World Service because of what they perceived as its biased reporting of that conflict, although from my position, sitting in Baghdad, I thought that its reporting was very fair. There have been pressures ever since then, in Government circles, in regard to that budget. The hon. Member for Christchurch does not make a good point, because the budget has been at risk in the past.

Barbara Follett: The Green Paper felt that the BBC’s independence would be threatened

That is precisely the point that the hon. Member for Teignbridge has just made. It also felt that the BBC’s “stability and security” would be threatened, were it

The present review process allows it to plan forward in a way that other beneficiaries of public funding cannot.

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The Green Paper went on:

On the case for funding the BBC through advertising and sponsorship, the Green Paper stated:

In other words, there would be more space available for advertising.

Mr. Chope: The Minister will know that the amount of advertising revenue received by Google during the first half of this year was no less than £50 million. Does she not think that if the BBC had advertising on some of its internet programmes, it could get back some of that money going to Google?

Barbara Follett: It might well be able to, but if people value what the BBC provides as a service without the intrusion of advertising, I think that we should take that into account. I certainly value the fact that when I go on to BBC Online, I am not pressed to buy something that I do not need, which, sadly, is too often a characteristic of today’s world.

The Green Paper continues:

We need to think of the effect of putting specific adverts on BBC Online or in other programmes; it would remove some of the BBC’s freedom. It continues:

Just think what “The Archers” would be like if we had to listen to advertisements for animal feed throughout the programme! It continues:

Mr. Chope: Will the Minister comment on the relative popularity of Radio 3 and Classic FM, the latter of which has advertising whereas the former does not?

Barbara Follett: The latter is extremely good and I enjoy listening to it, as I enjoy Radio 3. However, if I want to listen seriously and at length, I tend to turn to Radio 3; if I want news or weather information, I tend to turn to Classic FM. We have that choice, and I would be very sad if I lost the Radio 3 side of it and was left only with the Classic FM side. That is the point: we need to cater to both markets.

Funding the BBC through subscription was another option considered in the charter review. On that, the Green Paper said:

The conclusion from the Green Paper was that the licence fee should remain. We shall see why that was described as the least worst option:

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