Dame Esther Rantzen: Privatising BBC would isolate lonely people

File photo dated 15/10/18 of Dame Esther Rantzen, who has said society needs to “wake up” to child sexual exploitation, aft
File photo dated 15/10/18 of Dame Esther Rantzen, who has said society needs to “wake up” to child sexual exploitation, after figures showed the Childline service carried out 12 counselling sessions on the subject every day last year.

Dame Esther Rantzen has said privatising the BBC would harm people suffering from loneliness.

The TV star said that making the broadcaster a subscription service would isolate vulnerable people.

Downing Street is considering replacing the TV licence fee with a subscription model, forcing the sale of most BBC radio stations, cutting the number of television stations and reducing the amount of online content, according to a Sunday Times report.

The Government is already consulting on proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and ministers have suggested it could be abolished altogether when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal in 2027.

Dame Esther told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The people who ring me up and talk to me about loneliness are local radio stations and the people who depend on them and listen to them.”

When the BBC was described as a “dinosaur”, she replied: “Never underestimate how greatly loved dinosaurs are,” adding that many people “watch by accident and find something of real value”.

Praising Fleabag, which was on BBC Three, she continued: “If this planet survives, it will be due to two words – David Attenborough.”

When presenter Richard Madeley said: “The Government wants to tame the BBC, I  would suggest, because they don’t like it because it doesn’t like them,” Dame Esther replied: “I don’t think Boris (Johnson) wants to.

“I think Boris cares about his legacy, he doesn’t want to be known as the man who destroyed the BBC.”

Referring to the Channel 4 drama Brexit: An Uncivil War, in which senior adviser Dominic Cummings was played by Benedict Cumberbatch, she said: “I think there is someone called Benedict Cumberbatch in Number 10, sorry Dominic Cummings, and I think he might be the person.”

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