Former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant has said non-payment of the BBC licence fee should be decriminalised.
The veteran broadcaster said the current annual £157.50 licence fee should be frozen and the BBC should be ‘forced’ to earn more by other means.
His comments come as the Government is set to announce its response to a consultation on decriminalising licence fee evasion later this month.
The BBC has warned that switching to a civil, rather than a criminal system of enforcement, would cost the broadcaster more than £200 million a year.
Former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant has said non-payment of the BBC licence fee should be decriminalised
‘Despite the likely loss in revenue, the BBC should also accept that failing to pay the licence fee is no longer a criminal offence,’ the 76-year-old wrote in the Radio Times.
A consultation, that took place earlier this year, has evaluated whether criminal sanctions for the non-payment of the licence fee should be replaced by an alternative enforcement scheme.
The BBC has said the current system to tackle TV licence evasion ‘is effective in ensuring payment with very few people ever going to prison’.
Sergeant, who was the BBC’s chief political correspondent from 1992 to 2000, said alternative funding models for the BBC should also be considered.
‘The system itself has to change – the licence fee, as presently constituted, now commands insufficient public support,’ he said.
‘All reasonable alternatives should be considered. Personally, I would be in favour of freezing the present arrangements and forcing the BBC to earn more by other means.’
Sergeant also urged the broadcaster not to reverse its decision to means-test the TV licence for over-75s, saying it ‘would be far too damaging’.
He praised new director-general Tim Davie, who started in the role last week, for pulling a U-turn on the BBC’s decision not to have Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory sung at The Last Night of the Proms.
The BBC has ‘enormous strengths’, he said, adding: ‘It is the most trusted news source in the country.
Sergeant praised new director-general Tim Davie (pictured) for pulling a U-turn on the BBC’s decision not to have Rule, Britannia! and Land of Hope and Glory sung at The Last Night of the Proms
It has no political axe to grind.’ Sergeant said he was ‘fearful of stepping out of line’ during his time with the broadcaster, which later revived his career with his appearance on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008.
He recalled a news editor telling a reporter asking for a pay rise: ‘It’s much colder outside.’ In his first speech as director-general, Mr Davie last week announced a new social media crackdown on BBC employees, warning that if they wanted to be an ‘opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner’ they should leave.
On this Sergeant said: ‘You don’t need to parade these policies in front of the public as a form of virtue signalling – just instruct those involved. And if they don’t like it, tell them: ‘It’s much colder outside’.’
The full interview is in Radio Times magazine, out now.