Naga Munchetty has been savaged over her £190,000 salary after saying the BBC licence fee ‘is worth it’ to ensure viewers are ‘educated’.
Twitter users blasted the Breakfast host, 45, for backing the £157.50 charge for colour TV and £53 for black and white channels.
The end of the licence fee has been mooted by the Government, with a threat to turn the BBC into a subscription service.
Munchetty told Radio Times magazine: ‘There’s been noise about the licence fee for decades.
‘But at Breakfast, we’re not ratings-driven, we’re not there to garner attention on social media.
‘We’re there to provide a service and make sure people are informed, educated and entertained. I think a licence is worth that.’
But social media users pointed out the journalist would say that due to her £190,000 income.
Co-founder of Vote Leave Douglas Carswell wrote: ‘If the BBC licence fee is ‘worth it’, as this well-paid BBC presenter insists, they’d have no difficulty getting folk to pay it as a voluntary subscription without criminal records for non-payment #DefundTheseTroughersNOW.’
Another person put: ‘She would say that, wouldn’t she? #nagamunchetty.’
Retired Met Police officer Duncan Reid posted: ‘I might pay a little more on my licence fee if I didn’t have to see #NagaMunchetty again.’
While a retired British Army warrant officer commented: ‘Naga Munchetty is paid in excess of £200,000 per year. Over 75s state pension is ~ £9000 per year.
‘Of course she wants pensioners & the British public to keep funding her lifestyle, whilst allowing her to be a mouthpiece for the left wing. #DefundTheBBC.’
The Defund The BBC Twitter account said: ‘Let people decide that for themselves, Naga.
‘Stop trying to coerce people to pay for it with harassment and intimidation. And make the BBC licence fee cover BBC channels only, like any other broadcaster. #DefundTheBBC.’
An account under the name Cancel Your TV Licence tweeted: ‘Here is another reason to cancel your TV Licence.
‘While over 75’s will have to start paying TV licence from 1st August this useless presenter gets £190,000 a year of YOUR money.’
And one woman from London added: ‘Certainly worth it to Naga Munchetty and her bank account.’
Her comments on Breakfast not being ratings-driven also appear at odds with fellow presenter Dan Walker.
Walker, 43, took to Twitter last month to reveal his programme was ranked the ‘number 1 breakfast show on TV’ ‘by some distance’.
He later added: ‘They do a great job on GMB but it’s worth looking at the comparison figures.’
Earlier this month the government threatened to ban the BBC from taking viewers to court if they do not pay their TV licence.
It came a day after the corporation announced the end of free TV licences for everyone over the age of 75 from August.
It means more than three million households have to find a way to pay £157.50 for the service, or risk criminal prosecution.
Only those who receive pension credit – estimated to be around 1.5million – will still be able to access live TV and BBC iPlayer for free.
The PM’s spokesman said it was ‘the wrong decision’ while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he feels ‘let down’ and the decision will ‘have an impact’ on proposals to decriminalise the licence fee.
Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons’ digital culture, media and sport committee, told the Telegraph: ‘It will be an own goal of epic proportions to start hauling people over 75 in front of the courts. There needs to be common sense here.’
Anyone who watches or records TV, or uses the BBC’s streaming service, without a licence could be prosecuted and even jailed.
But ministers have spent months consulting on changing the law to eliminate prison sentences.
The number of people prosecuted for not having a licence was down on previous years to just under 129,000 in 2018.
The row came after Dame Esther Rantzen said the BBC should have waited to means-test the TV licence for over-75s and that the timing is ‘insensitive’.
But the broadcaster and Silver Line founder, 80, claimed politicians were trying to ‘scapegoat’ the BBC and doing so was a ‘slap in the face to older people’.
She said: ‘The BBC probably feel that their reputation is very high at the moment. They’ve been a fantastic source of news, they’re offering educational programmes for children who can’t go to school.
‘So they’re taking advantage of this moment but I think that they should have left it until September, when life would have eased up a bit for all of us, particularly for older people.
‘I think if the BBC had waited until the autumn it would have been kinder. But my main criticism at the moment is for the politicians.
‘I do think that (Culture Secretary) Oliver Dowden, who said he felt let down by the BBC was shifting blame…
‘It was Gordon Brown who decided to make this gift of free television licences, and it was George Osborne (then chancellor) who took it away and said the government would no longer fund it. And that’s what feels like a slap in the face to older people.’
The BBC’s plan was in chaos as it emerged the system used by 4.5million pensioners to pay their levy before August 1 was unable to meet demand due to staff cuts.
Over-75s will receive letters to advise them of the decision and the next step they need to take, namely phoning the TV Licensing call centre.
But a message on its website had said they are ‘prioritising customers in most urgent needs’ due to reduced staffing levels, adding this could lead to them being ‘unable to answer all your calls’ and a delay in responding to emails and letters.
The message was later changed to: ‘Covid-19 and your emails: Our team are working hard to respond to a large backlog of emails. There may be a long delay in responding to you.’
The move sparked criticism, including from the PM, whose official spokesman said: ‘This is the wrong decision.
‘We recognise the value of free TV licences for over-75s and believe that they should be funded by the BBC.’
Asked if the government would intervene, the spokesman added: ‘It is the BBC which is responsible for the administration of the over-75s concession but we are clear that this is the wrong decision and that we believe the value of free TV licences for over-75s should be funded by the BBC.’
Culture minister Matt Warman also challenged the corporation in the Commons, arguing it has had ‘a generous licence fee settlement’, that it was ‘deeply disappointing’ to see the change being made, adding: ‘I would hope that there is yet time to reconsider.’
But leading age charities and Labour’s shadow culture secretary rounded on the Government, accusing ministers of ‘passing the buck’ and calling a refusal to fund the service a ‘betrayal’.
The free TV licence was introduced in 2000, but the BBC took on responsibility for funding the scheme as part of the charter agreement hammered out with the Government in 2015.
Corporation bosses argue it was the Government which took the decision to stop funding for free licences five years ago and Parliament – through legislation – gave the responsibility to the BBC Board to make the decision on the future of the concession.
Britain’s elderly population has seen free access to live television and the BBC iPlayer service as an invaluable lifeline during lockdown but many are now facing another bill to deal with.
An estimated 1.5 million households could still be exempt from paying to watch live television or use the BBC iPlayer service, however, if someone over the age of 75 receives pension credits.
Age UK, which inspired more than 630,000 people to sign a petition against the proposals when they were first announced last year, described the announcement as ‘a kick in the teeth for millions of over 75s who have had a torrid time during this crisis’.
The change was originally due to be made on June 1, but the move was put on hold back in March, with bosses claiming the coronavirus pandemic had created ‘exceptional circumstances’ and that ‘now is not the right time’.
Delaying the move has cost the corporation £35million a month, and, with an ageing population, the total cost to the BBC could have reached £1billion a year, bosses insist.
There have previously been warnings that allowing the licence to continue being free for all over 75 would lead to ‘unprecedented closures’ of services.
The broadcaster, which faces increased competition from streaming giants, has said it cannot afford to take on the financial burden from the Government.
Continuing with the Government scheme would have cost the corporation £745million the BBC said, meaning the closures of BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, the BBC Scotland channel, Radio 5 Live, and a number of local radio stations, as well as other cuts and reductions.
But the move provoked a swathe of criticism, with the likes of Dame Helen Mirren calling the end of the universal entitlement ‘heartbreaking’, and former prime minister Gordon Brown saying ‘costs should be covered by the Government’.
The decision comes as the Government is set to announce its response to a consultation on decriminalising licence fee evasion.
The Government launched an eight-week consultation in February which received more than 100,00 responses.
A report in May suggested hundreds of people had opted to cancel their TV licence each day over the past five months.
Meanwhile, the broadcaster launched a programme of voluntary redundancy as it attempts to make £125million in savings this year – on top of the previous £800 million savings target – due to the pandemic.
It has also announced job cuts in TV news and local radio in England and said it was axing more than 150 roles in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And it plans to cut around 450 jobs in BBC News. The broadcaster said safety would be at the ‘heart’ of the scheme’, as ‘no-one needs to take any immediate action, or leave their home, to claim for a free TV licence or pay for one’.
BBC Chairman Sir David Clementi said: ‘The decision to commence the new scheme in August has not been easy, but implementation of the new scheme will be Covid-19 safe.
‘The BBC could not continue delaying the scheme without impacting on programmes and services.
‘Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit, and 450,000 of them have already applied.
‘And critically it is not the BBC making that judgement about poverty. It is the Government who sets and controls that measure.
‘Like most organisations the BBC is under severe financial pressure due to the pandemic, yet we have continued to put the public first in all our decisions.
‘I believe continuing to fund some free TV licences is the fairest decision for the public, as we will be supporting the poorest oldest pensioners without impacting the programmes and services that all audiences love.’
Mr Knight described the decision as a ‘body blow to millions of British pensioners’, saying he had hoped the Government and the BBC would thrash out ‘a fresh deal’.
The Tory MP said: ‘This mess is a result of a poor decision struck by the outgoing director-general and now Britain’s pensioners are having to pick up the cost.’
Fellow Tory Andrew Rosindell, MP for Romford, tweeted: ‘Considering the substantial salaries of some BBC presenters, the scrapping of the over-75s free TV license is absolutely unacceptable!
‘This decision rubs salt in the wounds of the generation hardest hit by the coronavirus! Maybe it’s time to scrap the license fee altogether!’
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK charity director, added: ‘We’re bitterly disappointed by this decision on behalf of the millions of over 75s who have had a torrid time over the last few months and for whom this must feel like another kick in the teeth, during a terrible year.
‘Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all.
‘We genuinely worry about the mental health of older people living on their own in this situation if they have to give up their cherished TV – for some it really is all they have and their main way of alleviating their chronic loneliness.
‘Everyone needs to understand that under the BBC’s scheme many hundreds of thousands of the poorest pensioners will be facing a bill they will simply be unable to afford to pay.
‘That’s due to its flawed design – you only get a free licence if you are receiving Pension Credit but as many as two in five of all the pensioners on the lowest incomes do not receive this benefit, even though they are entitled to it.
‘We know from talking to older people that many are feeling anxious and depressed, and frightened about the future – they are being told to be cautious because we are not yet ‘out of the woods.’
‘Everyone in this age group has more than enough to worry about already , particularly those who are alone, for whom their TV is more of a lifeline than ever.
‘We regularly hear from older people who are still too afraid to go out much, if at all, and so the TV really is their window on the world.
‘The BBC has taken this decision but in reality the principal responsibility lies with the Government.
‘Until a previous administration transferred these free licences to the corporation under a tapering funding arrangement they had taken the form of a welfare benefit for a generation, and to have done that without any consultation left a really bad taste in the mouth.
‘The Government cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the upset and distress being caused to many of our over-75s today, the poorest and most isolated above all. And the sadness is that these older people have already endured so much over the last few months.
‘The Government needs to sit down with the BBC urgently to keep these TV licences for over-75s free.’
Before the announcement was made, shadow minister Christian Matheson told the Commons the proposals meant pensioners could be ‘forced to choose between eating and watching TV’.
He added: ‘The BBC is cutting jobs and content to pay for the cost of the licence dumped on them by the government.’
Culture minister Matt Warman replied: ‘The fact is that the BBC has had a generous licence fee settlement and it is deeply disappointing that they have chosen to go down the path that they apparently are going down.
‘I would hope that there is time to reconsider that because [Mr Matheson] is right to say that television has been a vital comfort for many people in the last few months and it’s a vital part of our national economy as well.’
TV Licensing, which runs its collection activities, will write to those affected and give them ‘clear guidance’. Telephone contact centres have also been set up to assist.
Munchetty was rebuked by the BBC last year after commenting on President Donald Trump’s call for a group of female Democrats to ‘go back’ to their own countries.
The corporation initially ruled that the presenter had breached editorial guidelines before director-general Lord Tony Hall reversed the decision.
She said: ‘There are lessons to be learnt. The Breakfast team was very supportive at the time and, since then, I’ve had regular conversations with Tony Hall and other BBC bosses.
‘My whole strategy was to just keep my head down because I didn’t want to be the story.’
BBC Breakfast assistant editor Mark Grannell said of the long-running morning programme: ‘We’re not the Today programme on television.
‘Depending on what the main news is, we try and inject a bit of light into the shade. The interaction between the presenters is really important.’