James Purnell

The right-wing case for the BBC

A few weeks ago, I read on Coffee House that someone at Number 10 suggested that if the BBC appointed me director-general they’d bring in a chairman to sack me. I found myself in a unique position: too right wing to lead the Labour party, too left wing to run the BBC.

I don’t want to run the BBC. I love my job running radio and services for children too much. But the freedom of not wanting to be DG combined with my life in politics has encouraged me to take a risk and have a go at making the right-wing case for the BBC.

Nicky Morgan recently wrote that the future leadership of the BBC needed to accept that no change isn’t an option. She’s absolutely right. That’s why we tried to set up a British Netflix before Netflix existed. But the competition authorities blocked us.

It’s why, in the last charter review, we were in favour of reforming the licence fee. We supported a household fee, as did John Whittingdale, but that was vetoed higher up.

The BBC has always embraced change. We were perhaps the original tech company – the first big disruptor – pioneering the wireless, TV, colour broadcasting, high-definition, the transition to digital with DAB, iPlayer and more. Reed Hastings credits iPlayer with blazing the trail for Netflix, creating a whole new market for video-on-demand.

More recently, BBC Studios has been created to move the production of television programmes into a separate commercial subsidiary, receiving no subsidy. This has benefited audiences but also helped create a thriving creative sector. The BBC creates £2 of growth for every £1 of public subsidy. We are the largest single investor in UK original TV and radio content, and help sustain thousands of suppliers up and down the country.

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