Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tories go to war with the BBC

via ACP on Facebook; from

David Cameron, infuriated by the corporation's election coverage, appoints BBC critic John Whittingdale to "sort out the BBC" ahead of the royal charter review next year

John Whittingdale
John Whittingdale, the new culture secretary, has been one of the corporation's sternest critics Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
The future of the licence fee is in doubt after David Cameron appointed one of the BBC's biggest critics as Culture Secretary in a move that will be seen as an effective declaration of war on the corporation.
John Whittingdale, who has been chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee since 2005, has previously said that the licence fee is "worse than a poll tax" and ultimately "unsustainable".
Downing Street sources said that Mr Whittingdale will "sort out the BBC" ahead of the corporation's royal charter review next year, which will set out the future of the £145.50-a-year licence fee.
Senior Conservatives said they were “furious at the BBC’s coverage” of theelection campaign and accused the corporation of an “unforgivable pro-Labour bias”. 
There are now concerns that the corporation's coverage of the EU referendum in 2017 could betray a pro-EU bias.
Friends of Mr Whittingdale said he is at the very least likely to freeze the licence fee and could implement significant cuts.
He is also expected to scrap the BBC Trust, the body that oversees the corporation, after a series of scandals over its coverage and executive pay-offs.
His appointment will enable the Conservatives to push ahead with the decriminalisation of the licence fee, which was blocked in the last Parliament in the House of Lords.
Senior Tories repeatedly clashed with the BBC during the election campaign and were particularly infuriated by the corporation's attempts to force David Cameron to take part in a head-to-head leadership debate. 
Speaking ahead of Mr Whittingdale's appointment, a senior Tory source said: "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 favour."
Philip Davies, a member of the culture select committee in the last Parliament and ally of Mr Whittingdale, accused the corporation of "dancing to Labour's tune" during the run up to the election.
He said: "During the election campaign the presenters barely even had the courtesy to hide their allegiances.
Ed Miliband apprearing on BBC Question Time (PA)
"Because the Labour Party had nothing positive to offer they tried to make it a referendum on the NHS. If you look at how much it gave to the NHS it's pretty clear they were dancing the Labour Party's tune for the long time."
Mr Davies said that Mr Whittingdale, who he spoke to within 10 minutes of his appointment, is likely to at the very least freeze the £145.50 a year cost of the licence fee.
He said: "I have got very high hopes for John as secretary of state. I think he is the best appointment David Cameron has made in this new cabinet. 
"I would like to see the licence fee cut. There is absolutely no chance of it being increased because John knows better than anyone the amount of waste there is. I want to ultimately see it scrapped altogether."
In an interview in October last year Mr Whittingdale said that the £145.50 licence fee will ultimately have to be stripped back to allow people an "element of choice" in what they pay.
He said: "It's actually worse than a poll tax because under the poll tax, if you were on a very low income you would get a considerable subsidy.
"In the long term it is unsustainable. When I say unsustainable in the long term, I’m talking about over 20, 50 years." 
He has also called for the BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation, to be scrapped.
In February his select committee published a damning report which heavily criticised the BBC for the scale of executive pay-offs and its handling of the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine scandals. The report concluded that the BBC Trust should be scrapped.
Mr Whittingdale has also pushed for the National Audit Office to be given unrestricted access to the corporation's accounts to ensure licence fee payers' money is well-spent.
BBC Television Centre to New Broadcasting House (Alamy)
Last year European Scrutiny Committee concluded that the corporation's coverage of the EU is biased and letting down viewers.
Bill Cash, the chairman of the committee in the last Parliament, said: "There are very, very serious concerns that the BBC will not cover the referendum properly and demonstrate a pro-European bias."
After a reshuffle which saw women promoted to some of the most senior posts in government, Mr Cameron said: "Every decision we take, every policy we pursue, every programme we initiate, never forget: we’re here to give everyone in our country the chance to make the most of their life."
A BBC spokesman said: “We’re looking forward to working with the new Secretary of State. It was a highly charged election and it's nothing new for all sides to feel strongly about coverage, but we reported on it impartially and in depth as viewers and listeners expect.”
Elizabeth Truss, the environment secretary, called Mr Whittingdale's promotion an "inspired appointment" and called it "very, very good to see".
Dominic Raab, Tory MP for Esher and Walton, called the move the "appointment of the day" and said he could think of "no one" better placed to reform the BBC license fee.

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