Tories ‘at war’ with BBC? Future of state broadcaster unclear under Conservatives

Reuters/Neil Hall
Following the appointment of license-fee skeptic John Whittingdale to the cabinet on Monday, the UK’s right-wing press have sent out a flurry of front pages declaring the government is already ‘at war’ with the BBC.

Whittingdale has long been a staunch critic of the license-fee, a compulsory charge that costs television owners £145.50 per year to fund the BBC.

He has previously called the charge “worse than the poll tax.” Whittingdale’s critics say his appointment may spell the end of the broadcaster as a public body.

His promotion to secretary of state for culture comes as discussions about the fee’s renewal and BBC funding begins.

Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, newly appointed Business Secretary Sajid Javid backed the appointment of Whittingdale, saying he was “hugely experienced” and an “excellent choice” for the role.

There is a bit of over-excitement in those headlines,” Javid cautioned.

He added that Whittingdale was “someone who is hugely experienced not least because over the last few years he has been head of the select committee that oversaw my old department, he has looked into this issue [of the BBC] many times.”

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“He is the right person to take this forward. There is every 10 years a charter review process so the BBC’s charter is looked at afresh. That process is now starting, he will lead that process. It will be driven by evidence, there will be lots of stakeholders in that process but that is the best way to take these type [sic] of decisions.”

The leader article in the Telegraph, a paper which has traditionally opposed the license-fee, quoted Downing Street sources who said Whittingdale would “sort out the BBC.” The paper claimed many Tories had been “furious” at the BBC’s supposedly left-wing bias during the general election.

“There are now concerns that the corporation's coverage of the EU referendum in 2017 could betray a pro-EU bias,” the paper claimed.

Speaking ahead of Whittingdale's appointment, a senior Tory source told the paper: “It’s increasingly clear the BBC is governed by ideology. The way they handled the negotiations over the debates was appalling. There were times during the campaign when the coverage did seem skewed in Labour’s favor.”

Contrary to Conservative claims, independent watchdog Media Lens noted the BBC was also responsible for producing some pro-Tory material and had penned a veritable “love letter” to Cameron after his re-election.

They said “the puff piece claimed that Cameron’s ‘presentational skills were never in doubt’ and pointed to ‘his easy charm and ability to appear ‘prime ministerial’ at news conferences and summits.’”

When asked by the BBC whether he believed the license fee should come to an end, Javid said: “It’s time to have the charter review, it is a process that will take place over a number of months, it should be driven by the evidence.”

“When it comes to the long term future of the BBC, clearly there have been a lot of changes in the broadcasting environment, not least technology changes.”

“I think it’s sensible to look at that, to make sure the BBC is on a sustainable long term funding arrangement and I know John is just the right person for that job,” he added.