“In our view a diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain.”
This was the statement – self-regarding hyperbole according to Janet Daley in the Telegraph – that various celebs were invited to sign to kick off the BBC’s campaign against the Government review of its breadth and services prior to negotiations over a new licence fee that kick off next year. This bit of the Beeb’s campaign was allegedly orchestrated by director of television Danny Cohen.
Daley has a point but so does the Beeb. The corporation usually finds itself under pressure when there’s a Tory government in power although the biggest hit it has taken in decades was the rumpus kicked up by Alastair Campbell (a frequent performer on the BBC these days, bizarrely) for his master Tony Blair over the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ issued to support the Iraq War. Reporter Andrew Gilligan said it was “sexed up.” Campbell and Blair went bonkers, even though it clearly was. The upshot was that director general Greg Dyke resigned (foolishly, he should have called their bluff and waited to be fired) and the BBC ended up hamstrung and leaderless.
The current farago follows the appointment of John Whittingdale as culture minister and his appointment of a committee – ‘gravediggers in waiting’ according to former BBC chairman Lord Patten – to look into its activities. While it’s fair to say that none of the members of the committee are guaranteed BBC supporters – some have their anti-BBC axes to grind – it’s also probably reasonable to assume that they have no desire to do the Government’s dirty work. And be pilloried by angry viewers, listeners and hacks with a more left wing bias.
The real opponents of the Beeb are right wing media, like the Telegraph and Rupert Murdoch’s papers, and local news media who blame the BBC’s website for eating their lunch. But most people don’t want to rely on the Telegraph, the Sun and the Bridlington Argus (if, indeed, there is one) for unbiased news because they know they won’t get that.
Neither is there much appetite among commercial broadcasters (apart from Murdoch-dominated Sky and, maybe, BT and Virgin) for a slimmed down BBC with some of its channels opened to advertising. That would disrupt a commercial universe in which most are doing pretty well and some, like ITV, very well.
The BBC does need reining in. It costs too much, chiefly because it has too many overpaid managers. It may have jumped the gun with this particular campaign.
But it’s right not to sit back and take another kicking.