* Licence fee frozen for two years
* UK says debate needed on BBC funding post 2027
* Opposition say government is threatening broadcaster
LONDON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Britain will freeze funding for
the BBC for two years and debate whether a universal licence fee
should continue, the government said on Monday, sparking
accusations of "cultural vandalism".
While the government did not want to "destroy" the
100-year-old British "beacon", Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries
told parliament that it could not receive more money at a time
when households were being hit by rising taxes and energy bills.
Created to educate, inform and entertain, the BBC has been
admired around the world for its high-quality news output, drama
and documentaries by broadcasters such as David Attenborough.
But in recent years it has struggled to navigate the
heightened political and cultural disputes gripping Britain,
notably about Brexit, with critics saying its London-centric,
metropolitan viewpoint fails swathes of the country.
"It is nobody's intention to destroy the BBC," said Dorries,
a member of the ruling Conservative Party. "It's a beacon."
Tim Davie, the BBC's director general, and Chairman Richard
Sharp, said the freeze would necessitate tougher choices that
would impact licence fee payers.
Analysts have said a below-inflation settlement will require
cuts to BBC output, which includes global, national and local
radio, online content and broadcast and on-demand television.
Lucy Powell, the opposition Labour spokeswoman for culture,
told parliament that the funding freeze was an attack on one of
the biggest institutions in British public life, and accused
Dorries of "cultural vandalism".
BBC's news bulletins recorded some of the highest viewing
figures for 20 years during the pandemic, and it remains more
trusted than competitors, but it has admitted it could do more
to be impartial.
Under the new agreement the licence fee - a tax on all
television-owning households - will be frozen at 159 pounds
($217) a year until 2024, before it can rise in line with
inflation for four years.
Serious questions needed to be asked about the future of the
licence fee in 2028 and beyond, Dorries said, and in particular
whether a universal charge with criminal penalties for evasion
was still appropriate when the public can subscribe to many
platforms, like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
She said she was starting a debate, adding that analysis on
alternatives had not yet been done.
However, on Sunday she tweeted that this licence fee
announcement would be "the last", saying the days when elderly
people could be threatened for not paying had to end.
"This is 2022, not 1922," she said. "We need a BBC that is
forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern
($1 = 0.7325 pounds)
(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Alexander