Comment: The BBC is under threat because it is public sector and successful

Tory ideology could end the BBC as we know it


On Monday I attended the launch of the music industry’s Let it Beeb campaign in support of the BBC’s music services.

The music industry recognises the incredibly important role the BBC plays in promoting new artists and providing exposure to songs not played on commercial radio.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale acknowledged the strength of the UK music industry when he observed at the Conservative party conference that ‘there are no French Rolling Stones, no German Beatles… no Dutch David Bowie’.

Yet it is he and his Tory government that presents a clear danger to the future of the BBC.

It could be the end of the BBC as we know it. We’ve got the government’s green paper, but with it we’ve had constant anonymous briefings to the press about how the BBC needs to be ‘cut down to size’ and the BBC’s remit changed, i.e. reduced.

Proposals include axing Radio 1 and Radio 2, stopping the broadcaster from making some of its most popular shows, potentially scrapping the licence fee, cutting the length of the charter, and reducing the BBC’s news output. Any of these moves would be a massive mistake.

Like the NHS, the BBC is one of the institutions that makes Britain great. There is nothing like it in rest of the world. And like the NHS it is public sector and successful.

Unlike the NHS it is successful in a global market, one of the world’s leading media brands, out-performing private sector companies across the globe in so many areas, from the high drama of Sherlock to the innovation of iPlayer to the popularity of the Great British Bake Off.

And that is why it under attack. Because it is public sector and successful it flies in the face of the Tories ideological dogma which says the state cannot do anything successfully and therefore must be as small as possible, slashed every year under a regime of perpetual austerity – Osbornomics.

The BBC undermines Osbornomics because it is public sector, successful and loved. Polling shows that the public view the BBC as good value for money and perceptions have been improving since the last charter was agreed.

BBC One, for example, now has the highest viewer satisfaction ratings of any channel in the world.

The BBC produces programmes for everyone and its output reaches almost the entire adult population of the UK every single week.

Now, of course the BBC is not perfect – far from it. It needs to change to become representative of 21st century Britain. I have strongly criticised the lack of diversity within the BBC and at times it can appear remote and complacent. That needs to change, but while maintaining the investment and the scope of the BBC.

Cutting down the BBC would be an assault on the very principle of public service broadcasting. It would not only be massively unpopular and a disservice to the British public – it would threaten the rest of the TV ecosystem and the UK’s entire creative sector.

The BBC doesn’t harm the wider industry. It fosters it and creates a competition for quality. A much diminished BBC would be bad for Britain. For every one pound of licence fee spent, two pounds is generated in economic activity.

According to a report, of the BBC’s £3.7 billion investment of the licence fee, £2.2 billion is invested in the creative industries.

Labour will campaigning to save the BBC. Shadow secretary Michael Dugher’s Culture, Media and Sport team will fight against any proposal by the government to weaken or cut down the BBC, and constantly highlight why certain sections of the media are so anti-BBC.

As part of this, we will work with the trade unions, like Bectu, and the creative industry such as great campaigns like Let It Beeb.

The BBC is a cornerstone of our cultural life. It is public sector, it is successful and it is under attack. Labour will fight to save it.

Chi Onwurah is MP for Newcastle and a Labour shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport. You can follow her on Twitter @ChiOnwurah

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