The BBC needs to make the case for the licence fee more clearly than everby Jean Seaton / May 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
Was there clapping and cheering in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) when John Whittingdale was announced as the new Culture Secretary? There ought to have been. Having been run under the Coalition by two politicians on their way up (Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid) who were prepared to sacrifice pretty much anything to please the Treasury, and by Maria Miller, appointed because she was from the tribal right-wing and a woman, now the department has a properly experienced minister who, as the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, has tackled big issues such as phone-hacking. Whittingdale is a heavy metal-loving Wykehamist (he went to Winchester College), formed by that sceptical, puzzled, cerebral tradition (as opposed to the more usual Cabinet fodder of Etonian Whig). It is the most important job he could have at the most important time for the policy of the department. He has been given responsibility for some of the things that define us, represent us and on the whole are successes.
But if the department’s Permanent Secretary Sue Owen, who has been in place since 2013, has a spring in her step, BBC executives may not be so cheerful. Over the next 18 months, the BBC’s Charter has to be renegotiated, and the finance, governance and scope of the Corporation reimagined. Are the BBC’s commercial opponents rubbing their hands together with glee? They are numerous, vocal and determined. In the 1980s there was a ferocious attack on everything the BBC did: while it was not perfect, the public could see that the opposition to the BBC and the assault on it came from a clear political agenda. Now the attack is more difficult for the public to understand. The BBC faces an un-holy alliance of the anti-BBC left (who believe it is part of the sinister establishment) and the anti-BBC right (many of whom muttering “freedom” want it out the way). The well-resourced lobbyists for the commercial competition to the BBC are comfortable with the new Minister. The press—so competitive about much else—are already united in a vocal, co-ordinated attack on the BBC.…