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‘Defund the BBC’ campaigners raise £60,000 in donations in bid to challenge TV licence rules

An anti-BBC campaign group which aims to drastically reform the corporation’s governance has raised nearly £60,000 in donations in less than three months.

Defund the BBC, a right-wing group founded by Brexiteers, began crowdfunding in June and aims to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee.

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The group is using the money to create campaign material including billboards, merchandise and advertisements across social media.

The campaign says it has three main goals: to raise awareness of the legal implications of cancelling a TV licence, to urge the government to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and to lobby for the compulsory annual levy to be reduced to the lowest possible level in the BBC’s mid-charter review in 2022.

Defund the BBC Campaigner Darren Grimes

Defund the BBC, founded by James Yucel (left), has received more than £57,000 in donations amid fury over corporation’s ‘rich list’ published this week. The right-wing campaign is backed by prominent Brexiteer personalities including Darren Grimes (right) and Calvin Robinson

The flood of donations comes as the BBC came under fire after published accounts showed staff pay had soared 3.5 per cent up to £1.5billion this year.

Meanwhile the corporation is pushing ahead with plans to strip a million over-75s of their free TV licences.

Accounts published earlier this week showed that Zoe Ball is now the BBC’s highest earner after pocketing a £1million pay rise – knocking Gary Lineker off the top spot.

The Match of the Day star, 59, is understood to have signed a new five-year contract – and a nearly 25 per cent pay cut from £1.75million down to £1.35million.

While the Corporation said it was working towards closing the gender pay gap, Defund the BBC campaigners say pay rises were given to those who were performing poorly.

They highlighted pay rises given to Zoe Ball, who has lost nearly a million listeners, and Lauren Laverne who hosts Desert Island Discs.

Gary Lineker

Radio 2 DJ Zoe Ball

Radio 2 DJ Zoe Ball will now overtake Gary Lineker as the BBC’s highest paid stars 

Defund the BBC’s Head of Press Liam Deacon told talkRADIO: ‘You might say this is because of a good instinct to correct this gender pay gap but really I think this is actually symptomatic of a structural fundamental problem with the BBC that pay and money is not tied to performance in the same way that it would be in a business.

‘The BBC is using our money in a really grotesque way.’ 

The BBC’s top 10 highest-paid stars includes four women for the first time, with Vanessa Feltz and Fiona Bruce also featuring.

Critics have blasted its decision to reward its staff with a total 3.5 per cent salary increase even after it announced plans to slim down its operations following the pandemic.

BBC director-general Tim Davie defended Ball’s huge pay rise after she shed nearly a million listeners in the first year in her new role, saying it was a ‘punchy’ market.

‘Zoe is absolutely a broadcaster at the top of her game. She’s delivering over eight million listeners,’ he boasted. ‘I think we’re getting incredible value.’

Asked about the likes of Lineker still earning more than £1million, Mr Davie said he would expect ‘people to come to the BBC at a significant discount to what they’d get in the open market’. But he added: ‘We will invest in very limited situations in particular markets to ensure we have got the best talent.’

Defund the BBC’s website lists it’s founder as James Yucel – the 18-year-old treasurer of the University of Glasgow Conservative Association.

The campaign is backed by prominent Brexit personalities Calvin Robinson, a former Brexit Party parliamentary candidate, and Darren Grimes, the pro-Brexit campaigner recently cleared of committing electoral offences during the EU referendum.

But the campaign director is Rebecca Ryan, the founder of the #StandUp4Brexit campaign which put pressure on MPs to oppose Theresa May’s Chequers deal.

‘For the last four years, the Brexiteers have been portrayed by the BBC as being thick, racist and old,’ she told the Times this week.

‘It is difficult to explain to people who didn’t support Brexit how it actually feels to be forced to pay for something on fear of imprisonment only to be repeatedly portrayed in that way. It’s a deep, deep injustice.’

Fewer families are buying TV licences, according to BBC's annual report published this week

Fewer families are buying TV licences, according to BBC’s annual report published this week

The campaign’s Twitter account attracted 25,000 followers on the first day and its following now sits at 96,000.

The crowdfunding campaign, which has a target of £100,000, has received more than £57,000 from 2,700 donors since June.

Figures from the BBC’s annual report show fewer households are buying TV licences and that audiences for its major channels have also fallen, suggesting many families are relying on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Corporation said 25.9million licences were in force in 2019/20 – down 237,000 in a year.

With a licence costing £157.50, the fall cost the BBC just under £40million.

The BBC lost millions more because the Government has started to reduce the amount of money it gives the Corporation to pay for free licences for the over-75s.

BBC Rich List top ten

1. BBC Radio 2 breakfast show DJ Zoe Ball is on £1.36 million.

2. Match of the Day host Gary Lineker is on £1.35 million. 

3. Graham Norton takes about £725,000 for his Radio 2 show and some TV work, but not his chat show.

4. Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright is on about £475,000.

5. Newsreader and election night presenter Huw Edwards is on more than £465,000.

6. Fiona Bruce takes home over £450,000 for her work on Question Time.

7. BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz is on about £405,000.

8. Desert Island Discs host Lauren Laverne is on more than £395,000.

9. Broadcaster Stephen Nolan is on more than £390,000 for his radio work, including 5 Live.

10. Match Of The Day’s Alan Shearer is on the same figure of £390,000 a year.

The BBC has insisted it cannot afford the concession for all pensioners and says only around 900,000 who receive Pension Credit would continue to get it.

Meanwhile, Netflix bosses have thrown their weight behind the long-term future of the BBC and voiced support for continuing the licence fee.

They say the streaming service, which has been hoovering up viewers from traditional TV stations, benefits from a creative landscape crowded with thriving public service broadcasters.

According to this week’s report, younger people aged 16 to 34 watched or listened to just seven and a half hours of BBC content a week – only a slightly higher share than YouTube. 

Across all ages, the audience reach of BBC1 – the numbers that see the channel each week – fell from 68 per cent to 65.4 per cent in a year. BBC2 also saw a decline, from 42.9 per cent to 41.9 per cent.

CBBC, CBeebies and BBC Four also saw falls while the only increases were on the BBC News channel and BBC Parliament. 

Even among its most loyal viewers – the over-55s – audience reach across all BBC TV channels fell from 93 per cent to 92 per cent. 

Among those aged 16 to 34, the proportion fell from 58 per cent to 55 per cent. Radio 1 saw its audience reach fall from 17 to 16.6 per cent and Radio 2 dropped from 27.2 per cent to 26 per cent. 

The audience for Radio 4 was stable at 19.3 per cent and there were small rises at Radio 3 and 5 Live. 

The report said: ‘Young adults watched 11 hours a week on all TV channels on average – decreasing around 75 minutes year on year.

‘In contrast, the time they spent using the TV set for subscription video on demand, gaming, YouTube and other purposes increased – up to around 40 minutes per week to just over nine hours weekly on average.’ 

The annual report revealed a rise in the number of executives. The BBC now employs 253 senior managers – up from 250 the year before.

Of these, no fewer than 106 earn more than the Prime Minister’s £150,000. 

Together with 76 on-air talent staff, it means almost 200 staff at the BBC earn more than Boris Johnson. 


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