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BBC Should Be Sold Off to Investors, U.K. Think Tank Says

  • `Free-market' group calls broadcaster out of step with times
  • With charter up for renewal, critics seek privatization

A U.K. think tank with a self-described “free-market” political stance is calling for the British Broadcasting Corp. to be sold off to private investors, saying the world’s oldest national broadcaster is biased in its news coverage and too close to political processes.

The London-based group, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said in a report published Thursday that the funding model for the BBC -- a license fee paid by U.K. residents owning a TV set -- is out of date. It cited new technologies allowing viewers to watch television on the go and from a variety of devices, as well as increased competition from Internet news sites.

“The BBC is fast becoming a minnow in international broadcasting, communication and the entertainment world as a whole,” the institute said. “If it remains nationalized it could become irrelevant.”

It’s one of a range of views from across the political spectrum that are expected to emerge as the BBC’s royal charter comes up for review this year, dictating how the broadcaster operates. 

Already reeling from recent budget reductions, the BBC is under pressure to defend its funding via the license fee, which has been frozen for seven years at 145.50 pounds ($212) per household. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has called the license fee “unsustainable.”

A BBC spokesman said the institute’s view is “at odds with the public, which backs the license fee and rates the BBC No. 1 for trusted and impartial news.”

“We have clear guidelines on impartiality, and this looks like selective use of data to paint a misleading picture by a group with a clear agenda,” the spokesman said.

In February, a group of House of Lords lawmakers, following an eight-month study of the BBC, argued against slimming the broadcaster. The group said the BBC was already smaller than global media companies yet did recommend a more open and transparent process around the collection and setting of its fee.

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