Yesterday Gordon Brown rightly put some pressure on the BBC to control its costs. Labour announced a below-inflation settlement for the Corporation. This may force Auntie Beeb to think twice before making an endless stream of ratings-chasing makeover programmes and awarding telephone number salaries to the likes of Jonathan Ross. The BBC had wanted year-on-year above-inflation increases to ‘the unique way it is funded’ – otherwise known as the poll tax-resembling licence fee. Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director-general, has this afternoon declared himself disappointed with the settlement. And who, frustratingly, has offered sympathy for Mr Thompson? Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire. Mr Swire has issued the following statement:
“The BBC clearly feels let down by Tessa Jowell and now finds itself in
a very difficult position, having to deliver on all its agreements with
Government without the funding it regards to be necessary. However, what would be clearly unacceptable is for the licence fee to rise and for the quality of programming to decrease. The BBC is in the unique position of being funded through the licence
fee and the licence fee payer has the right to expect the highest level
of public service broadcasting despite any disagreements between the
BBC and the Government.”
This is the wrong message for the Tories to be sending out. It reeks of short-term pandering to ‘Robinson Man et al‘ and it is certainly inconsistent with the earlier warnings from George Osborne for the BBC to eschew predatory expansion.
The Conservatives should be supporting a BBC that is focused on programming that commercial broadcasters will not provide. Mr Swire should also revisit the Elstein Committee’s idea that other media suppliers should have some access to the money provided for public service broadcasting by UK citizens and which is currently monopolised by the BBC.