David Blackburn

The BBC’s stay of execution

The BBC’s stay of execution
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Auntie has been warned, and in no uncertain terms. Jeremy Hunt, the innocuous-looking Culture Secretary, has used an interview with the Telegraph to threaten the BBC. He said:

‘There is a moment when elected politicians have an opportunity to influence the BBC and it happens every five years. It is when the licence fee is renewed.

That will be happening next year. That will be the moment when I use my electoral mandate to say to the BBC now, going forward for the next five years, these are what we think your priorities need to be and there are huge numbers of things that need to be changed at the BBC. They need to demonstrate the very constrained financial situation we are now in.

We are clear – one of the biggest issues with the BBC is there seem to be a steady flow of stories where the way that licence fee payers’ funds are used is not appropriate. The policy on executive remuneration is the biggest. It is absolutely essential that the NAO has access’

Little has changed at Wood Lane in recent months. Enthralled by the ongoing spat between Mark Thompson and the BBC Trust, the BBC has allowed a debate about its expenditure to morph from the controversial to the untenable. The corporation has less than a year to reform according to the Public Purposes of its Charter.

Doing so will not preserve all of the BBC’s privileges. Hunt means business, and in the market sense of the term. He envisages a revolution in local television at the expense of the BBC’s local news monopoly. He also wants the licence fee to be reduced, which will require the BBC to reduce the scale of its operations even after making short-term budget cuts.

To an extent though, the BBC is still the author of its fate: Hunt will be lenient if it reduces spending and gives greater value for money. However, if it cuts yet more public service broadcasting from the World Service, or if it scraps cheap, hard-hitting programmes such as Straight Talk, in favour of offering the Christine Bleakleys of this world £450,000 not to join Adrian Chiles on a breakfast sofa, then it deserves all that it will get.