The appointment of Michelle Donelan as Culture Secretary appears to offer little respite for the BBC, after it emerged she believes licensing fees should be scrapped.
Donelan, who worked in marketing for World Wrestling Entertainment before entering politics, apparently shares his predecessor Nadine Dorries’ skepticism about the mandatory charge to fund the BBC.
The former universities minister, who served as education secretary for just one day before Boris Johnson announced his resignation, had earlier launched a petition urging the BBC to reverse its decision to charge more than 75 years for licensing fees.
Speaking in 2019, she said: “I personally think the levy is an unfair tax and should be removed, but that’s a different debate.”
This debate will now be launched by Donelan, who inherits a loaded reception platter ranging from future funding of the BBC and the privatization of Channel 4 to the enactment of plans forcing tech companies to pay newspapers for the use of their stories and fate of the controversial Online Security Invoice.
Beyond her appearance at the BBC, Donelan is an unknown in the media sector. Member of Parliament since 2015, she attacked “cancel culture” and “wake up the bullies” in her role as Minister of Universities.
His experience in cultural industries includes marketing roles at The History Channel and Marie Claire magazine as well as his stint in the United States as head of international marketing communications for WWE’s wrestling corps.
Eleventh Culture Secretary for the past decade, Donelan’s tenure could be brief. But she takes the helm of a department that represents a burgeoning British success story – the creative industries, from fashion and film production to music and sport, have contributed £104billion to the UK. economy last year.
Donelan Catch Tray
Liz Truss has called for a review of the decriminalization of non-payment of the fee, citing the disproportionate number of women being prosecuted.
BBC executives fear this will give a ‘green light’ to non-payment. Donelan is expected to organize the investigation.
However, a 2015 independent review, led by David Perry QC for David Cameron’s administration, found that replacing criminal penalties with a civil enforcement regime would lead to higher fines and costs for fraudsters. Ministers reluctantly accepted the findings.
Donelan also inherits a scheduled review designed to examine alternative funding mechanisms for the BBC. BBC Director General Tim Davie and Chairman Richard Sharp expect to meet Donelan in the near future.
Nadine Dorries has accused Rishi Sunak’s Treasury of blocking her attempts to end the £159-a-year charge. Lord Gilbert of Panteg was the favorite to chair the review but the process stalled after Boris Johnson’s resignation was announced.
Cheshire-born Donelan is also expected to push the BBC to give a bigger voice on air to people from nations and regions and to move more programs out of London.
Launching his 2019 petition opposing licensing fees for over-75s, Donelan also noted that “BBC salaries have skyrocketed since 2015 with a large number of BBC staff earning salaries at six or seven figures funded by licensing fees!”
She accused the BBC of “evading its obligations to its older viewers, many of whom have been their most loyal viewers and have paid full price for television licenses for years”.
Truss is in favor of privatizing the public broadcaster financed by advertising, but is less committed to the politics pushed by his predecessor, promising “I will examine the business case for Channel 4 in detail”.
Bids have been prepared for the sale, which was to be the centerpiece of a media bill that Donelan will introduce in parliament this fall. Channel 4 bosses are hoping the sale, opposed by several Tory MPs and their peers, could still be put on hold.
Regulating Big Tech
Donelan will play a key role in legislation aimed at reducing the power of social media companies, including the proposed Online Safety Bill which seeks to impose a duty of care on them to protect users from illegal or harmful content.
Twitter, Google and Meta, which own Facebook and Instagram, face fines for failing to comply with the new regulations – but Liz Truss has sided with Cabinet figures including Kemi Badenoch, who has argued that the provision of “lawful but harmful” content would infringe freedom of expression. The bill will be “adjusted”, Downing Street said.
The DCMS has also drafted laws to require Google and Facebook to pay newspapers and other media outlets for the use of their stories.
Donelan will be urged to act quickly to enact digital marketplaces legislation that follows concerns that tech companies are dominating online advertising.
The sport contributes around £17billion to the UK economy and Donelan will be tasked with exploring offers to bring more international events to Britain, including the Women’s World Cup in 2027, after the triumph of the Lionesses at Euro 2022 at Wembley.
Donelan is urged to strengthen the rights of public service broadcasters to broadcast crown jewel events such as the Olympics, men’s and women’s World Cup finals as well as Euros football tournament finals, Wimbledon singles and the Grand National.
Spending on making high-end films and TV shows in the UK hit a record £4.7billion last year, with Amazon, Netflix and Disney all investing in new studios. A skills shortage, however, means productions pay exorbitant rates for crew.
UK broadcasters, who are battling streamers for viewers, want Donelan to push forward Media Bill proposals to ensure their apps, such as iPlayer and All4, are prominently displayed on the screen on the next generation of smart TVs.
Music clubs and theaters are warning they could be forced to close without help to tackle soaring energy bills.
The UK Theater body said in a ‘welcome’ message to Donelan: ‘The reality is that for many they will see their energy bills double or even triple, with significant operational consequences.’