MP calls for review of BBC licence fee amid fears media organisations are being ‘suffocated’ by taxpayer-funded activities

Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton North
Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton North

A Northampton MP has backed calls for a review of the BBC and the impact it has on commercial media organisations including local newspapers.

Michael Ellis, MP for Northampton North, says local newspapers should not face unfair competition from an “overweening BBC website” that uses taxpayer-subsidised licence fees to potentially stifle other media organisations.

The calls came as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, announced plans for the BBC to take on the cost of providing free television licences for households with over-75s.

Speaking in the House, Mr Ellis said: “I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement, and I would like him to work with the BBC to improve the position. The Northampton Chronicle & Echo is a very good local newspaper.

“Does he agree that they, and many other local newspapers around the country, should not be put in jeopardy by an overweening BBC website and other BBC branches and units that have had a tendency, using taxpayer-subsidised licence fees and other sources, to have an effect on those local press organisations?”

After the debate, Mr Ellis told the Chron: “I am a great supporter of the BBC. It is a national institution but we do have to be careful that taxpayer money in the form of a licence fee isn’t being used to suffocate other forms of media.

“Their resources are far, far greater and the licence fee clearly needs to be looked at. It seems to be a very outdated form of funding a broadcasting organisation in the 21st century.

“The Government is looking closely at working with the BBC to ensure they continue to provide an excellent service but at the same time do not unfairly stifle other media companies,” he added.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, also confirmed plans last week to go out on consultation for possible tax relief for local newspaper companies.

“I am very supportive of the tax relief for local newspapers. It is right that George Osborne has ordered a consultation on this. It is an important part of a democracy that we have a local press. I think it is right to see whether there could be a form of tax relief to encourage that,” Mr Ellis added.