Political interference and the BBC

Jeremy Hunt, Tory culture spokesman, needs to answer the difficult questions and stop chasing headlines, writes Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ.

Well it looks like it must be open season on the BBC. While the Labour government ponders whether to top slice the TV licence fee, the Conservatives are now threatening to “rip up” the BBC Charter with still six years left to run.

For weeks now Jeremy Hunt has been taking any and every opportunity to whip out a public statement bashing the Beeb. At times it seems as if he doesn’t just want to be minister for Culture, Media and Sport but BBC Director General as well.

But while much of this can be dismissed as press release rhetoric designed to please the Murdoch empire, his latest remarks are far more worrying. Either they show a serious failure to comprehend the importance of the BBC’s independence, or they mean the Conservatives plan to launch an unprecedented assault on the corporation if they win power next year.

BBC Charters are agreed to cover lengthy periods precisely because shorter-term agreements would give politicians too strong a role in setting the direction of the organisation.

It seems that Hunt would like to destroy one of the fundamental mechanisms that have maintained the corporation’s independence for all these years. We cannot allow the BBC to become a political football, falling victim to the rough and tumble of party politics. It is a not a state broadcaster, there to serve the interests of the government of the day. It is a public broadcaster acting in the interests of licence fee payers.

Perhaps yesterday’s statement on the charter is just more political rhetoric. It was certainly worded in a way that played to the gallery without giving concrete commitments. What’s really worrying is that at a time when British journalism is in crisis, Jeremy Hunt is focussing on how he can undermine the BBC instead of coming up with proposals that would actually bring new money in to our industry.

Headline grabbing may be easier, but if he really wants to be minister, it’s time he answered the difficult questions.

Jeremy Dear is General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists

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