Wednesday, 21 Oct 2020

Forget the London luvvies! BBC warned it MUST reflect whole UK in major slapdown

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Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden issued the warning when he appeared before the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Mr Dowden spoke out after the BBC’s annual report revealed the corporation was still failing to invest in the regions despite repeated promises to share funding across the country. The report showed just 2.8 percent of BBC spending on television programmes was in the Midlands over a year compared to 49.3 percent in London.

We need to make this organisation reflect all those different values

Oliver Dowden

Mr Dowden said the BBC must “return to its core values of impartiality”. Explaining what this means he said it was about reflecting the whole country.

He said: “The exam question on impartiality for me is, does the BBC as much reflect the values of somebody living in a semi in Leigh, outside Manchester, as they do reflect the values of someone living in a loft apartment near Old Street roundabout in central London?

“We need to make this organisation reflect all those different values.”

Mr Dowden highlighted the BBC’s “limited view of the world” as an example of its inability to understand the perspective of Brexit supporters ahead of the EU referendum.

He said: “I say this as somebody who was a Remainer in the 2016 referendum campaign.

“I was guilty of not seeing the groundswell that was going on in the country, and the BBC was as well.

“Many of us are guilty of being too much reflecting on our acquaintances and our local area rather than what is going on really in the country.”

The committee hearing came as the Government prepares to announce a panel to review into all aspects of public service broadcasting and publish its response to a consultation on decriminalisation of licence fee evasion.

Mr Dowden assured MPs he did not want to give the impressions it was legitimate to not pay the TV licence and also denied decriminalising evasion was an agenda set out by Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

The BBC has warned switching to a civil system would cost the broadcaster more than £200 million a year.

The Culture Secretary told the committee: “I do think there are major challenges around decriminalisation which we continue to consider.

“I am concerned that we do not send a signal that it’s acceptable not to pay your TV licence. So, I’d be concerned around sending signals around non-payment.”

But he warned there were “wider questions around the funding of the BBC”.

Mr Dowden “took issue” with an MP’s suggestion it was “a Dom Cummings agenda”.

He said: “I’ve had conversations with him about many things but I’ve never had a conversation with him once about the BBC or decriminalisation or anything else like that.

“There are legitimate questions about whether people should ultimately face a criminal sanction.

“I think it was appropriate that we looked at that. The Government is now considering its response.

“There are many other big decisions we have to take around the BBC, not least the licence fee settlement.”

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Mr Dowden went before the committee as the Government published an advert for the new BBC chairman and denied offering the job to former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore.

Mr Johnson’s first choice to be chairman reportedly ruled himself out of the running earlier this month.

Mr Dowden said the Prime Minister was looking for “a strong, credible figure who can hold the BBC to account, to ensure that we have strong and effective corporate governance of the BBC, a proper challenge of the BBC”.

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