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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4 Responses to “Political interference and the BBC”

  1. Shamik Das

    RT @leftfootfwd: Guest article on political interference & the BBC, by Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the NUJ:- http://is.gd/4sitq

  2. Ben

    In the past the public held the BBC in deep affection and for many years the BBC was in effect the country talking to itself. We were proud of it and what it said about us as a nation.

    Over a number of years from the early 1980s the atmosphere at the corporation changed and they took on more progressive programme makers. When the Conservatives were voted out in 97 champagne corks popped at Broadcasting House. The BBC got right behind the New Labour project. They mocked the Tories and mercilessly rubbed their noses in it. Conservatives can remember that time very clearly.

    The BBC became a cheerleader for progressive ideas and was in the vanguard of promoting multiculturalism. A few years into the new century and the BBC had become an arrogant overbearing monster.

    Public dissillusionment with the BBC is all the more acute because they were once held in such high regard. We feel betrayed by them.

    I hope the Tories take proper revenge next year. Cut the licence fee in half and see how they manage on that.

  3. Henry

    Ben may not have seen an ICM poll in September which showed that 77% of people thought the BBC was an institution we should be proud of (up from 68% five year before).

    Conservatives endlessly whine about the BBC because it doesn’t slavishly reflect their view of the world. With most of the print media on their side, you’d have thought they’d be quite happy. They seem to want a Soviet-style media that presents only one viewpoint.

  4. Paul

    The BBC is a national treasure – like the NHS. What really marks them out form other media outlets is a freedom from a controlling media tycoon or government. That freedom has allowed them to continually bring the very best programmes of all British broadcasters. I really fear for them especially when I read what the Murdochs, Jeremy Hunt and your first respondent would like to do with them. Quite what is wrong with a high quality and very cheap (£142.50 pa) national service escapes me. Perhaps someone can smell money to be made by reducing the nation’s quality of life.

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