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I left US for the BBC, Cerys Matthews tells Lords committee

Published 21/07/2015

Cerys Matthews made an impassioned plea to politicians not to
Cerys Matthews made an impassioned plea to politicians not to "fiddle" with the BBC

Pop star Cerys Matthews has said she gave up her life in the US and came back to Britain so her children could grow up watching the BBC.

The Catatonia singer - now a DJ on BBC Radio 6Music - said poor people in the US were vulnerable to exploitation because of the lack of an unbiased and easily accessible public service broadcaster to offset TV networks which "bombard" viewers with ads.

She made an impassioned plea to politicians not to "fiddle" with the BBC and go down in history as the people responsible for "taking away our culture".

She challenged the impartiality of the panel set up by Culture Secretary John Whittingdale to oversee a review of the corporation, arguing that six out of eight members were currently or previously employed by companies which are "set to gain by the weakening of the BBC".

Matthews was speaking to a House of Lords committee considering the royal charter renewal process launched last week by Mr Whittingdale amid speculation about the future of the licence fee and questions over whether the BBC should stop producing popular programming similar to that on commercial channels.

"I left the US in 2007 because I missed the BBC so much," said Matthews, who was a contestant on ITV's I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here the following year.

"I wasn't working for the BBC at the time. I was songwriting and I was having children, and the decision I made was to come back to Britain and the BBC, so my children could have access to advert-free broadcasting that would give them a true window on the world."

She added: "The disparity between rich and poor, black and white, in America is shocking. I truly believe it is because they lack a well-funded and easily accessible public broadcast provider.

"When you watch television in America, you are bombarded with ads that are very frequent and very long, selling you the junk foods that are killing those who are most vulnerable, because they haven't got easy access to unbiased information and access to information that will prevent them being easily exploited."

Arts Council chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette told the Lords Communications Committee that the BBC was "after the English language and Shakespeare, the greatest asset this country has around the world".

He said it was "inconceivable" that the BBC should be made to give up its online news presence, arguing it was "more important than ever" for it to deliver impartial information amid "the Klondike mayhem of the internet".

Sir Peter said the BBC also played a crucial role in developing talent, though he acknowledged more should be done to open it up to people from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds. Too often, "when you get a call from a researcher from the Today programme, they are called Piers or Jemima", he said.

He told peers the BBC seemed so keen to show it was recruiting black talent that individuals were put on screen when they might be more suited to managerial roles.

However, he said the culture had improved since his early days as a researcher: "The BBC I entered in the mid-70s was a very arrogant organisation, it was an organisation that didn't pay much credence to its licence fee payers, viewers and listeners.

"It did what it thought it should do, and the people who worked in it were quite arrogant and we were trained to be arrogant.

"It's a different organisation today. It's more humble."

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