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Shadow culture secretary Hunt to oppose BBC licence fee hike

LONDON - Tory shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will today call for the BBC licence fee to be frozen at £139.50 next year, rejecting the government's plans to increase the fee by £3 from April 1.

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Hunt will propose the motion in today's Commons vote on the licence fee, usually a formality, arguing that it is wrong that the BBC is getting an inflation rise when there is no inflation and that the money available to the corporation is distorting the commercial media market.

However, the licence fee increase is likely to go ahead with support from government benches and the Liberal Democrats' media secretary, Don Foster, who has promised to support the government.

Hunt said: "The BBC's income was traditionally on a par with the income for the commercial sector, but now that advertising is suffering, it is getting on to double what the commercially funded sector is getting."

Media secretary Andy Burnham will defend the rise by arguing that it abides by the licence fee settlement arrived at in January 2007, which guaranteed the corporation a phased increase over six years.

Hunt's move follows calls in March by David Cameron for the licence fee to be frozen -- the Tory leader argued that the move would help hard-up families affected by the recession.

Although the licence fee hike is highly likely to go ahead, Hunt's comments are a clear indication that, should the Tories get into government, the party will not let the issue lie.

Hunt said that while freezing the licence fee would "only represent a shortfall of £68m" for the BBC, the £3 annual saving would be a "meaningful sum of money" for families struggling during the recession.

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