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How to stop this mad attack

19 Feb 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
How to stop this mad attack

The Tory onslaught against the BBC is more than an attempt at cultural vandalism, writes Ray Snoddy - it's just plain nuts

Last week it was reasonable to warn that the "consultation" that will lead to the de-criminalisation of the BBC licence fee was a staging post on the way to replacing the licence fee with subscription payments, destroying forever the concept of a national public service broadcaster.

Things got worse on Friday with the appointment of John Whittingdale as Minster of State For Destroying the BBC.

Whittingdale was the worst of the long-serving Culture Secretaries - most were not there long enough to do much damage - who had to be restrained from trying to privatise Channel 4.

Now he is going to get the long-held desire of a free marketeer to cut the BBC down to size, a very small size indeed.

Just how small became clear in a Downing Street briefing to the Sunday Times. It's not just that the licence fee will be replaced by subscription, but the BBC will only be permitted to broadcast "a few" unspecified television channels and all radio stations apart from Radio 3 and Radio 4 would be sold.

There would be an expansion of the World Service and rather bizarrely BBC staff would be prevented from accepting paid work outside their jobs in the way MPs routinely do.

Former deputy Prime Minister Damian Green summed it all up very well.

Is there any country in the world, let alone a democracy, that has deliberately set out to trash its national public service broadcaster?"

"I hope this is kite flying. Destroying the BBC wasn't in the Conservative manifesto and would be cultural vandalism. 'Vote Tory and close Radio 2'. Really?"

The only thing that Green might have got wrong, alas, is that there is no sign of kites anywhere. This appears to be the fixed intent, at least for now, of a semi-crazed regime - calling it a government would confer far too much gravitas.

Cultural vandalism certainly, but also just plain nuts.

Is there any country in the world, let alone a democracy, that has deliberately set out to trash its national public service broadcaster and one with such a distinguished international reputation?

Why would you want to do such a thing is the obvious question but one that defies any rational answer.

A diversionary tactic lined up to provide cover when negotiations with the EU fail and we crash out of transition without a deal? That might be a side effect but surely not a satisfactory answer.

The most plausible explanation is that we are dealing with political malice tinged with megalomania informed by the totally unaccountable right wing think tanks holed up in layers at a single London address, 55 Tufton Street. They have managed to inject their bacillus into Downing Street via Dominic Cummings.

Can anything be done about such poisonous ideas coming out of a diseased political system with an 80 seat majority?"

A few rational, factual thoughts, though strictly speaking we are not dealing with rational processes here.

If you want to turn a serving rump of BBC television channels into a subscription service all the millions who do not already have Pay-TV would need conditional access systems, expense would be great although many people, among them the greatest current users of the BBC, might not bother.

What would happen to Freeview, one of the great success stories of British broadcasting, when deprived of BBC channels?

Which channels would be closed down or sold?

BBC One because it is too popular for the right-wingers?

BBC Four, one of the better things the Corporation does, could not survive in such a world nor could the BBC News channel leaving Sky News with a monopoly.

Would CBeebies and CBBC survive the cull and become a subscription service? Really?

The World Service would be strengthened so people outside the UK would get a better news service than those at home. Bizarre.

Selling off most of the BBC radio stations? Largely speech-based local and regional radio would simply fail as would the national stations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Sell off Radio 1 and Radio 2 - apparently part of the plan - and large swathes of the current commercial radio system could be in financial trouble.

Thousands of trained broadcasters would lose their jobs in one of the few industries where the UK is internationally competitive, and to a large extent it is still the BBC which trains the rest of the industry.

In such a world who would fund BBC research and development, now paid for by the licence fee and what would happen to the six BBC orchestras?

Cultural vandalism indeed.

Not even the Brexit party advocated going this far. It merely wanted the licence fee to be replaced by voluntary subscription, itself a bad idea.

Can anything be done about such poisonous ideas coming out of a diseased political system with an 80 seat majority.

If anything like it ever comes before Parliament then as many citizens as value the BBC, whether they always agree with what it does or not, have to bother to protest.

But there is a solution which could stop such folly in its tracks and it lies in the hands of people like Damian Green, one of the former ministers exiled to the backbencher by the lurch to the right of the Conservative Party.

As Green notes there was nothing in the Conservative manifesto about destroying the BBC. If there are 41 honest, responsible Conservative MPs, prepared to disobey the whip - and surely we must hope there are - this madness can be stopped.

It might even lead to the beginning of the end for the Prime Ministership of the serial liar, fantasist and charlatan that is Boris Johnson.

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01 Jul 2020 

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