UK minister: BBC should lose criminal prosecution powers over licence fee

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s BBC should not be able to pursue criminal prosecutions against viewers for not paying the TV licence fee, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said, adding that an examination of the broadcaster’s powers would be in its next charter review.

Convictions for not paying the licence fee are in the spotlight after Britain’s Post Office used its own powers to wrongly convict hundreds of its branch managers for false accounting, fraud and theft since the turn of the century.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the BBC to have criminal tools in its armoury in relation to prosecutions,” Frazer told Times Radio on Monday.

“I think that there are issues in relation to criminal prosecutions, especially for those people who are the most vulnerable.”

The TV licence, which funds the national broadcaster, is set to rise by 10.50 pounds in April to 169.50 pounds ($215) a year.

In December, Frazer said her department would review the BBC’s long-term funding options, including how it could increase its commercial income.

Frazer also said on Monday she was extending the remit of regulator Ofcom to cover the BBC’s News website as part of a mid-term review of its charter, which expires at the end of 2027.

In a written statement to parliament, she said that audiences were increasingly consuming content online and they expected the same standards of impartiality across the BBC’s television, radio and online services.

($1 = 0.7868 pounds)

(Reporting by Paul Sandle, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)