The fight to save the BBC from Tory ideologues is on

Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings is believed to be behind hostile briefings against the Beeb. But defenders of public service broadcasting are getting organised.

On Monday, a new campaign will be launched outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London to tell the government: “It’s our BBC.”

The launch – coordinated by public ownership campaign group We Own It – marks the start of a major push to defend the public broadcaster from Conservative attacks.

Campaigners will gather for a giant game of Dominic Cummings ‘Whack-A-Mole’, symbolising the reported government intentions to ‘whack‘ the BBC, as briefed to the Sunday Times last month.

Members of the public will be dressed as Dominic Cummings who will be “whacking” beloved BBC programmes, including Planet Earth and Eastenders with a five foot tall mallet.

We Own It are launching a series of demands, amid a ‘sham’ consultation on decriminalising non-payment of the license fee – a move which could cost the broadcaster hundreds of millions of pounds a year. The calls are for:

  • The government to ensure the BBC stays a publicly owned and funded broadcaster which makes programmes for everyone. 
  • A proper process to make sure the BBC has fair and sustainable funding, while protecting vulnerable groups. The government should pay for TV licences for over 75s, as it has previously, and low income groups
  • The BBC to be ready for its next 100 years as a broadcaster by better representing the British public through an independent board with a citizens panel to give us a voice, capping excessive pay, and initiating a stronger role for regional journalism.

The “It’s Our BBC” campaign comes after reports that the government intends to attack the BBC and strip back its services.

Reports in February suggested that the government plans to sell off many of the BBC’s services and replace the current licence fee with a Netflix-style subscription model.

These threats to the BBC have been made at a time when the BBC has seen 30% cuts in public funding since 2010. BBC News recently announced 450 job losses as part of an £80m cost-cutting drive – just a snapshot of the cuts to come.

The government ended its boycott of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, after falling out with the broadcaster during the general election.

We Own It Director Cat Hobbs said: “The BBC is a national treasure. Its programmes and services have had an unparalleled impact on our culture and understanding of the world – from Planet Earth to the Archers, Match of the Day to the World Service.

“As the UK forges a new path after Brexit, we should be proud of our fantastic globally respected British institutions like the BBC. It is utterly staggering that the government would want to strip that back and leave us without the wonderful contribution the BBC makes.

“If Dominic Cummings gets his way, we’ll be left with little more than a Fox News style broadcast media. That would be an unmitigated disaster for our media, for our democracy and for our country. 

“We know the BBC isn’t perfect. But the way to solve that, isn’t with aggressive grandstanding, or with threats to undermine the BBC’s future and reduce its funding. It’s to secure its funding for the long term, and to make sure the BBC takes action to reform for the better – capping excess pay, and ramping up its regional reporting.”

As reported by HuffPost, Dominic Cummings director of the New Frontiers Foundation think tank in 2004 ‘when it produced a string of blogs that attacked the BBC. Cummings was one of just two staff at the think tank.’

HuffPost’s Paul Waugh notes that in Thursday’s Lords debate on the future of the BBC, Labour peer and former TV presenter Joan Bakewell quoted a passage from a Cummings blog calling for ‘the undermining of the BBC’s credibility and…the creation of a Fox News equivalent / talk radio shows / bloggers etc to shift the centre of gravity'”.

The government’s own reports suggest that decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee and shifting to ‘civil enforcement schemes’ will actually target more people, be more costly to the offender, and potentially be more punitive.

We Own It has issued a template response to the consultation, which calls on the government to guarantee BBC funding in the long term, while protecting those who can’t afford to pay.

The ‘It’s Our BBC’ campaign is being led by We Own It, and is also supported by the New Weather Institute and the New Economics Foundation.

The BBC also came under fire from left-wingers during the election, including for grilling opposition figures before confirming that Boris Johnson would be interviewed by Andrew Neil.

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