BBC boss backs entertainment output

This Is Lancashire: Tony Hall says the BBC is "an enormous investor in British comedy" Tony Hall says the BBC is "an enormous investor in British comedy"

BBC boss Tony Hall has defended the BBC from criticism that it makes too many entertainment shows.

His comments came as the corporation, which has enjoyed huge success with Strictly Come Dancing but has been criticised for muscling in on the territory of rival broadcasters with talent show The Voice, is expected to announce job cuts in BBC news.

Lord Hall told the Culture, Media and Sport select committee: "If you look at entertainment we do less than ITV, but what we do brings the nation together.

"We are an enormous investor in British comedy and comedy tells you about our lives and about us.

"If you look at Miranda, The Wrong Mans or Mrs Brown's Boys, these are really important ways of contributing towards UK culture."

The BBC's director-general told MPs: "We are about distinctive, original programmes. When you ask the public, 'does that mantra ... inform, educate, entertain still hold true?', the answer is it does."

Lord Hall confirmed that BBC director of news and current affairs James Harding would be making an announcement later this week.

Staff have been warned previously that a "significant" number of redundancies are likely to be made in the corporation's news department and t here has been speculation that 500-600 jobs could be cut.

"BBC news is facing what the rest of the BBC is facing, which is a 26% cut in the amount of money we have available for programmes and services," Lord Hall said.

"So later this week James will be telling the staff about the consequences of that for staff in BBC news.

"I want James to tell his staff what's happening before I announce anything."

Lord Hall called the BBC the "greatest cultural force in Britain" and defended its governing structure and method of funding through the licence fee.

Senior Tories have previously called the compulsory annual charge made to viewers - currently frozen at £145.50 a year - out of date and warned that it faces the axe.

"It's a system that ain't broke..... For 40 pence a day everybody in this country can enjoy first-class programmes and services," he said.

"What you get back from that is a broadcasting ecology which I think is the envy of the world. You only have to leave the country for 10 minutes and you realise that what we have is very, very precious."

Scrapping the licence fee "would change the nature of what the BBC is about...brilliant programmes", he said.

Lord Hall added: "We're saying we believe in the licence fee. We're also saying it needs to change and modernise."

The charter renewal negotiations will take place on the back of a torrid few years that have seen the corporation lambasted for its handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal, massive executive pay-offs and a Newsnight investigation that led to the late Lord McAlpine being wrongly accused of child abuse.

Lord Hall dismissed the idea of putting some BBC content behind a paywall.

He defended the BBC's coverage of the European and local elections following complaints that it was biased towards Nigel Farage's Ukip.

Conservative MP Philip Davies accused the BBC of pursuing a "racist" policy in its efforts to boost diversity at the corporation instead of being "colour blind".

He called on the director-general, as well as director of television Danny Cohen, director of strategy and digital James Purnell, and senior independent director Dame Fiona Reynolds to lead by example.

"I'm looking at you four. I'm just wondering which of you four are prepared to fall on your swords to let a black person have your job," the MP said.

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