The BBC really is in a mess right now. But please bear with me — it is not the fault of the rank and file, apart from a few who wholeheartedly do their masters’ bidding rather than uphold the better traditions of the BBC.
It is the fault of the government and the people it has appointed to top positions. The BBC as an institution is as much a victim as Gary Lineker.
I first noticed things going awry after the Hutton Inquiry of 2003. The inquiry criticised the BBC — rightly so — but whitewashed the then government. This empowered the government to threaten to BBC’s income, forcing the BBC to make changes. These have been compounded by the changes in the market with increased competition online, which has made the BBC even more fearful of losing the licence fee, which the government could make happen.
After the Hutton Inquiry and until 2 April 2017, the BBC Trust, the successor to the Board of Governors, was tasked with making decisions in the best interests of licence-fee payers. It was replaced by the BBC Board with regulation by Ofcom. All of the Board have been appointed since the Tories took power in 2010.
The chairman, Richard Sharp, is a former banker, former boss of Rishi Sunak and major Tory donor. He has used an offshore Cayman Islands company for investing in a business founded by a Russian oligarch who has been sanctioned. His family foundation donates to the Institute for Policy Research. He introduced Boris Johnson to a guarantor when he wanted a £800,000 loan. A firm of which he was shareholder received £600k for Covid research while he worked in No 10. His appointment is under investigation and there have been calls for him to resign yet he has steadfastly refused to go, leading to low morale at the Beeb.
Director-General Tim Davie is a former Conservative Party politician.
Non-executive Director Shumeet Banerji’s career has been in investment and consulting. Sir Damon Buffini has also had a career in business. Shirley Garrood is a former Chief Financial Officer. Ian Hargreaves has a background in journalism and headed a commission for David Cameron. Sir Robbie Gibb’s background is in journalism and is a former Downing Street communications director under the Tories.
Board members with no obvious Tory connection (so far as I can tell without doing a deep dive) include Senior Independent Director Sir Nicholas Serota, Member for Scotland broadcast journalist Muriel Gray, Member for Wales Dame Elan Closs Stephens, DBE, Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore, Chief Operating Officer Leigh Tavaziva, and former ITN reporter and BBC Head of Newsgathering Jonathan Munro, who was involved in the decision to a helicopter over Sir Cliff Richard’s house and the appointment of Martin Bashir (of Princess Di interview fame) to the post of BBC religious affairs correspondent. The Executive committee consists of some of the above plus Kerris Bright, Tom Fussell, Rhodri Talfan Davies, Gautam Rangarajan and June Sarpong.
There does appear to be a certain amount of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing — whether or not that is due to changes in policy or simple miscommunication. It was fine for Gary Lineker to talk politics when he was talking about Brexit, but not about immigration and the hateful language surrounding it. A David Attenborough program was 6th in a series to be show on TV, then it wasn’t.
The BBC has a lot of competition these days. I for one do not want to see it forced to compete, as that will change the very nature of its offerings. Competition is not always best. I recall that back in the day, BBC always had football and other sports on a Saturday afternoon, for example. When ITV came along, what did it provide on a Saturday? Football and other sports. Maybe a few more fans got to see a bit of their teams playing, but there was not a great increase in choice for the rest of us. But when BBC2 came along, that was completely different — we got drama!
If the BBC loses the license fee, it will be competing for the same markets and the same products, which will become more expensive thanks to bidding wars. This will not serve the British public. The BBC still does some wonderful programming. I would love to see it restored to something we could be proud of, without being destroyed by the profit motive or ideology. Clearly that cannot happen while extreme right wing ideologues and their sycophants have so much power over the BBC. So those with ties to the government of the past 13 years or Tufton Street must go.