Defending their share 

15 July 2009 tbs.pm/1078

MPs sign motion against top-slicing licence fee

Ben Bradshaw attacks BBC bosses

It was perhaps inevitable that there would now be open conflict between the BBC and certain government ministers over the issue of so-called “top-slicing” in respect of the TV licence fee, because any failure of BBC management to properly justify every penny of the licence fee would rapidly turn into a highly exploitable weakness.

Ideally Mark Thompson ought to stand down at this point since his continued presence will only serve to undermine the credibility of the licence fee as a whole, because his management team have obviously failed to secure the BBC’s sole usage of that fee if the “top-slicing” issue has moved to the top of the agenda again.

However, the main problem is that Thompson – and presumably some of his cohorts – actually don’t realise that something is fundamentally amiss with their arguments, and certain attempts to defend the BBC’s public position have been subsequently reinterpreted by some government ministers as being arrogant.

It may be true that BBC management have been ‘wrong-headed’, but a management problem doesn’t automatically translate to something that’s fundamentally wrong with the BBC as it stands.

Plus to compound the issue further, those that see top-slicing as the only workable solution to “public service obligation failure” (such as Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw) do not openly consider that the political temptation to vary that ‘sliced’ percentage (if they disagreed with anything at all that the BBC did) would inevitably end up being too much.

Therefore the BBC’s relative political impartiality would be eroded as a consequence, and with it some of the support needed for the continuation of the licence fee as it stands. That principle is certainly worth more than any alternative regional news funding structure, regardless of the consequences.