The national broadcaster is one of the UK’s greatest assets. How can it remain so?by David Lidington / September 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
The harassment of BBC reporters in Belarus a few days ago was part of a pattern. During last year’s protests in Iran, family members of BBC Persian staff were called in for questioning, had their passports confiscated and were told that they should tell their relatives to stop working for the BBC or face the consequences. In Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the BBC was banned from working in the country. Autocrats loathe the BBC for its editorial independence of government and its frank reporting—the same reasons why more and more of their citizens are tuning in. BBC Persia now reaches 11m people.
Those qualities too are what makes the BBC one of the United Kingdom’s major assets at a time of upheaval in the world’s economic and geo-political order, when “Global Britain” is going to need to use every scrap of soft power it can marshal to maintain our influence and advance our interests. This of all times is not the moment to dump a globally recognised and respected brand.
Domestically too, the BBC’s reputation remains enviably high. A YouGov survey in April this year found that 47 per cent of people trusted BBC news journalists to tell them the truth, a lower level than for doctors, teachers or judges but quite a lot higher than for newspaper journalists or politicians. Interestingly, Conservative as well as Labour voters trusted the BBC more than other sources of news.
That does not however mean that the BBC can afford to be complacent. The digital revolution has transformed broadcasting. Satellite and cable TV; the internet and the integration of TV, radio and home computer systems; the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime; and the ability of viewers and listeners to access programmes on smartphones and tablets, not just TV sets and radios have altered public habits, expectations and attitudes. The challenge for the BBC is to maintain its reputation for independence, quality and impartiality in a vastly different and still changing technological, economic and political environment from that which existed at the beginning of this century.
As a Conservative who wants the BBC to thrive, I wish Tim Davie, the new Director General, well and hope that he tackles three challenges in particular.
First, he should stop the avoidable own goals which just…