Rupert Murdoch reportedly told Boris Johnson to “get rid of the BBC” during a visit to his country estate.
According to Rachel Johnson, the prime minister’s sister, the media mogul “dandled” Johnson’s son Wilfred on his knee at Chequers as he argued for scrapping the license-fee funded broadcaster.
LBC broadcaster Johnson, 56, told an industry event in November that the long-term future of the BBC would be an “increasing struggle” as competition from streaming services ramped up.
‘It’s eating my lunch’
“In my judgment the BBC will be here in ten years,” she said. “But it is going to be an increasing struggle when the whole of the television story is about streaming and subscription, to have the BBC which costs £4 billion to run, which gets £3 billion in from the licence fee, to have that entity as a competitor.
“Especially when you have got people like Rupert Murdoch going to Chequers and saying to my brother, as he dandles Wilf on his knee, ‘Boris you’ve got to get rid of the BBC, it’s eating my lunch, they got a website, they’re a publisher, it’s not competitive’.
“You can see that there are pressures from all sides.”
It emerged last year that Murdoch has met Johnson, whose youngest son was born in April 2020, three times since becoming prime minister.
Transparency data released by the government, the pair met on 18 September 2020 for a “general discussion”.
License fee freeze
The BBC’s director-general this week warned that adopting a subscription-based alternative to the licence fee risks creating a “commercial agenda” which would mean a substantial change to the corporation’s output.
Tim Davie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if the publicly-funded broadcaster became even largely subscription-based, rather than wholly so, it will “not do what it does today”.
His comments follow confirmation from Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on Monday that the licence fee is to be frozen at £159 for two years, until 2024, after which it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years.
A number of alternatives to the licence fee have been floated, including an opt-in subscription service similar to that used by streaming giants such as Netflix, the introduction of advertising, or a broadband levy.
Davie said: “Once you’re trying to serve a subscription base and a commercial agenda – and, believe me, I’ve run commercial businesses – it is a completely different situation, because suddenly you are doing things that are there to make profit and make a return to a specific audience.”
‘It serves the British public’
Asked if he agrees with the debate that the licence fee is “over”, he said: “I think the debate is more centred around ‘Do we want a universal public service media organisation at the heart of our creative economy, which has served us incredibly well?’ And if we want that, we have to support a publicly-backed and not a fully commercialised BBC.”
He added that the broadcaster could transform into a commercial operation, but if it did “it will not do what it does today”.
“We have built an incredible creative industry here in the UK, and we’ve got a universal broadcaster that is admired around the world,” Davie told Today.
“That is because it serves the British public and all the British public… the principle of universality is absolutely the debate here.”