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Attacks on the BBC are an act of cultural vandalism

This government is intent on hobbling a great British institution for its own short-term political gain, says NUJ leader MICHELLE STANISTREET

NADINE DORRIES was already a fully paid-up member of the BBC-bashing squad when she was appointed as culture secretary by the Prime Minister.

It wasn’t just at the BBC where the almond coffee latte cups were hitting the floor when her appointment was announced. 

Dorries, an enthusiastic Brexiteer and Johnson loyalist, must have been equally surprised at her promotion and despite her much-vaunted Liverpool working-class background, one suspects her beverage of choice isn’t builders’ tea, despite her jibe.

She was already on the record as describing the BBC as a left-wing organisation run by a liberal elite which had too many “dull, boring and ageing wig-wearing men” on presenting duties.

Subsequently revealing she had no idea how Channel 4 — the broadcaster she wants to privatise — was funded and just this week left unable to answer Labour MP John McDonnell’s questions of what the BBC contributes to the creative industry and the regions, she is clearly not fit to do the job.

This week, she announced in the Mail on Sunday and on Twitter — despite negotiations between the BBC and the government having not been formally concluded — that the BBC licence fee would be frozen at £159 until 2024 before rising in line with inflation for four years. 

She tweeted: “This licence fee announcement will be the last … Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

She was upbraided by the Speaker of the House for disrespect to Parliament for leaking the announcement — in the same way she disregarded her constituents by going Awol from her MP duties and taking ITV’s cash to appear on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. She was the first to be voted out, but not before eating an ostrich’s anus.

The announcement intended to damage the BBC is clearly Dorries doing her bit for Operation Red Meat by indulging in a vindicative and desperate act of distraction to Save Big Dog. 

When the evidence of partying, hypocrisy, lies and dissembling is mounting, what does this government do in response? It blames the journalists and the news outlets holding them to scrutiny, and plots acts of revenge.

The BBC is renowned the world over, it is an economic powerhouse for Britain’s creative industry, yet this government is intent on hobbling a great British institution for its own short-term political gain. 

Unnamed government sources speak of the “end of state broadcasting” and thereby demonstrate their woeful ignorance of what public service broadcasting truly is and what it stands for.

Freezing the licence fee for the next two years will do enormous collective damage to programming and services, to employment and ultimately to democracy. 

Yet the individual cost to licence fee payers to simply match inflationary rises, would be an additional 80 pence per month — something the NUJ believes is proportionate and affordable.

The right-wing press has long had the BBC in its sights, with Rupert Murdoch making very plain his wish to crush the corporation, as he does all media competition. 

In November, Rachel Johnson, Boris’s sister, described Murdoch dandling Wilf on his knee, while he told the Prime Minister, to “get rid of the BBC, it’s eating my lunch” during a cosy visit to Chequers. A claim she later, rather unconvincingly, insisted was a joke.

The BBC also has detractors on the left who believe it is an essentially right-leaning, Establishment organisation. The broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said the BBC had a good record ensuring that programming is duly impartial — and complaints claiming a left-wing bias are cancelled out by those saying it is right wing. 

That’s not to say the BBC gets it right all of the time, but at a time when social media is full of fake news and most of the national press rabidly supports the Conservative Party, the corporation provides a bulwark of trusted news.

The NUJ has had its run-ins with the BBC, and there is much we would change about its management structure and investment into grassroots programming and journalism, but we fully support the need for a strong public service broadcasting sector. 

And — take note, Culture Secretary — every £1’s worth of the BBC’s economic activity generates a total of £2.63 in the wider creative economy; and 50 per cent of the BBC’s economic impact is made outside London, compared to a sector average of 20 per cent.

The attempt to compare the BBC with Netflix or any other streaming channel is fatuous. These US-owned, cash-rich behemoths do not provide news and current affairs nor programming reflecting the lives of all of us in Britain. 

They are not accountable or committed to employing a diverse workforce and they care little about the scope and breadth of public service broadcasting.

The latest cuts to an already lean corporation — which made £1bn cuts last year — will inevitably make a real difference to front-line services. 

Already, 2,000 staff were lost in the last round of cuts. By bleeding the BBC dry, following decades of below-inflation deals, the government may hope to kill the corporation by preventing it from providing the Strictly Come Dancings, Lines of Duty, summer-long Proms, Panorama, BBC Bitesize (which was a lifeline to parents during lockdown), I May Destroy You, local radio and the globally respected World Service. 

People will eventually switch off — job done.

Dorries said she could not justify asking “hard-working households to pay even more for their TV licence” as the cost of living is rising. 

This craw-sticking hypocrisy beggars belief from a Cabinet minister who’s perfectly comfortable with cutting £20 from universal credit and imminent spiralling energy costs.

The BBC’s Reithian principles of informing, educating and entertaining are as important today as they have ever been. 

To undermine that would be an act of cultural vandalism and we hope that the public sees these attacks for what they are and rallies to support the corporation and its unarguable value to our society.

Michelle Stanistreet is general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.


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