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Jul 15, 7:53 AM EDT

Daniel Craig, Judi Dench urge UK government to back BBC


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AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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LONDON (AP) -- Stars including Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are urging the British government to protect the BBC, as the publicly funded broadcaster faces budget cuts and political pressure for its ambitions to be curbed.

"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and naturalist David Attenborough also signed Wednesday's letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling the BBC "a creative force for good" and "the envy of the world."

"A diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain," the letter said.

The BBC runs multiple commercial-free TV and radio stations and websites, funded largely through a 145 pound ($227) annual fee paid by TV-owning households.

It faces a cash squeeze after agreeing to pay for free TV licenses for people over 75, and the fee's future is in doubt as more people watch programs on computers, tablets and phones.

The BBC also faces renegotiating the terms of its governing charter with what some consider a hostile government.

Some in Cameron's Conservative Party think the BBC should focus on "public service" broadcasting and stop making big-budget entertainment shows such as singing contest "The Voice" and car program "Top Gear."

The broadcaster is regularly accused of political bias - by both left and right - and is criticized by commercial rivals for its size and secure funding.

The government is due to publish a paper Thursday outlining ideas for the BBC's future, and has appointed a panel of eight people - several from the world of commercial broadcasting - to work on renewal of the broadcaster's charter, which runs out at the end of 2016.

BBC Director-general Tony Hall said Tuesday that audiences do not want "a significantly smaller BBC."

He said the idea of "a much-diminished BBC ... is often put forward by people with their own narrow commercial interests or ideological preconceptions."

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