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It’d take more than scrapping the licence fee to cure the BBC


LAST Monday, in the final days of the election campaign, Boris Johnson suggested that the BBC licence fee is under review because it is an anachronism. 

That possibility has been consolidated further by Downing Street since Friday, and took a new turn with claims in the Mail on Sunday that Dominic Cummings has ordered Cabinet ministers not to appear on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme because doing so is pointless.

In addition, former senior BBC news executive Roger Mosey, now master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, tore into the BBC’s election coverage and warned that the licence fee could end unless future journalism better reflected the mood of the country outside London. 

Thus it seems that reform of the BBC is firmly on the new government’s agenda. But to what end?  

The reality is that every attempt at BBC reform – stretching back to the Thatcher era, as I wrote here before the 2015 general election – has failed, and each new Charter has made the Corporation more arrogant and entrenched. A prime reflection of this came this weekend with an extraordinary editorial on Radio 4’s The World this Weekend by ‘reality checker’ Chris Morris. He excoriated selected aspects of the Conservative campaign – ‘the party and the leader that was called out on the facts most often’ – and suggested that it left him wondering whether ‘truth matters any more’. At a stroke, he seemingly squashed any idea that the Corporation might be trying to understand its own shortcomings.

The problems with the BBC are deep and systemic, and have infected every aspect of its operations, from tiresomely recasting the children’s favourite Worzel Gummidge as an eco-warrior to business as usual on Weekend Woman’s Hour – namely they ‘discuss the heteronormative, de-colonising the curriculum, and seeing sex as you see your experience of chocolate croissants’. 

If Boris Johnson really does want to reform the BBC, something far more radical than a knee-jerk scrapping the licence fee will be required.      

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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