Labor pledged to bolster the BBC’s political independence and keep it as a public service broadcaster at the heart of British life, amid signs that a Conservative government led by Liz Truss would wage war on the society.
Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, told the Observer it examines a series of reforms designed to insulate the BBC from political pressure, including an end to ‘revolving door’ appointments of people in politics to senior positions in the corporation, and extending the period for renewal of the BBC’s charter. 10 to 15 or 20 years to reduce pressure on BBC executives to toe the government line.
Labor’s decision follows last week’s bombshell claims by former BBC presenter Emily Maitlis that a Tory ‘agent’ was ‘acting as arbiter of the impartiality of the BBC’ from her seat on the council of administration of the company. Although she did not name him, Maitlis was referring to Theresa May’s former communications director, Robbie Gibb, who has since denied the allegations.
With Truss, the Foreign Secretary, set to become the next Prime Minister, there are signs the Tories under her will press ahead with sweeping changes at the BBC, including an end to licensing fees in its form current. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, an outspoken BBC and Channel 4 critic and Truss supporter, said licensing fees would be frozen for two years and signaled its end, saying in a tweet that “this royalty announcement will be the last”.
Truss also questioned the accuracy of the BBC during his six-week Tory leadership campaign. Speaking on the right-wing GB News a week ago, she said she believed the BBC had failed to check her facts.
Yet some of the BBC’s best-known former presenters last week accused the company of moving towards a conservative agenda. Even before Maitlis delivered her lecture in Edinburgh, she and Jon Sopel, until recently the BBC’s North America editor and new colleague at Global, both complained to this newspaper about the BBC’s devotion to ‘balance’ in all reporting and its coy coverage of the impact of Brexit.
Veteran BBC radio presenter Roger Bolton has just been ousted from his job holding society accountable on Radio 4 Feedback after 23 years, also complained of bias.
Speaking ahead of his barbed departure from the show on Friday, Bolton said Maitlis was “absolutely right” to criticize the BBC’s Brexit coverage. “The BBC is increasingly confused between its corporate responses and its editorial responses. And the bosses are not as responsible as they should be,” Bolton told the Observer.
But those close to Gibb pushed back over the weekend, arguing that impartial news coverage remains the real goal. “It’s no coincidence that GM Tim Davie has made this a top priority,” a source close to Gibb said. Observer.
“It is a reflection of the fact that we know how cherished this ideal is around the world. It’s something that can be achieved even at the highest level, with the appointment of Chris Mason as political editor, for example, and it’s something the public expects.
Speaking on Radio 4 on Saturday morning, famed broadcaster David Dimbleby also attacked Maitlis, arguing over the Today program that his comments about Dominic Cummings’ “shocking” rule-breaking during lockdown should have been questions, not statements.
“Not everyone may have been shocked,” he said, citing Maitlis’ description of the public’s response to Cummings’ misdemeanor as “a reaction of fury, contempt and anguish.” .
“It was a polemic. I think it was the mistake,” Dimbleby said.
The Labor leadership is now keen to present itself as a supporter of the best traditions of the BBC while being open to change, especially on the precise form of the license fee.
Powell stressed the vital role the BBC plays in British life. His reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Women’s Euros had shown him at his best.
“But the constant attacks by the Tories are stealthily destroying the BBC,” she said.
“The BBC must move with the times and should not be afraid of robust reporting and debate that reflects the views of the country.
“In the midst of a cost of living crisis, our fast-growing, world-renowned UK film and television industry will be essential to the growth of our economy. The BBC is essential to this unique ecosystem.
She added: “Under Labor the BBC would be free from political interference, and the BBC’s future as a universal, public service broadcaster would be secure.”