Belfast Telegraph

I've never suggested dismantling the BBC, says John Whittingdale

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has denied the Government wants to "dismantle" the BBC and stressed there should be no political interference in the programmes the corporation shows.

He also said that suggestions that there was an ideological Tory drive to destroy the corporation were "just extraordinary".

Mr Whittingdale has sparked concern among some supporters of the corporation after saying that a review of the BBC's royal charter would look at whether the broadcaster should continue to be "all things to all people" or have a more "precisely targeted" mission.

And he has sparked speculation it may be told to cut back on popular programming which competes with shows available on commercial broadcasters and has raised questions about the future of the licence fee.

Interviewed by Alastair Stewart in front of an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Mr Whittingdale said: "Who is talking about dismantling the BBC? I've never suggested dismantling the BBC."

He added: "We are having a debate about the role of the BBC in a very different broadcasting landscape and whether or not it needs to do absolutely everything it has done in the past ... or whether there are areas where perhaps it should do more. That is an open debate."

Mr Whittingdale said he has a slight sense that people who are rushing to defend the BBC are "trying to have an argument that's never been started".

And, he said: "Whatever my view is, I don't determine what programmes the BBC should show. That's the job of the BBC."

Mr Whittingdale said any speculation that the Conservative Party has always wanted to change the BBC due to issues such as its editorial line was "absolute nonsense".

He added that there have been times when he has been driven "into a fury" because he has not liked something they have broadcast, but he said Labour governments would say the same.

"The BBC is always going to occasionally broadcast things which the Government doesn't like.

"But it is absolutely right that the BBC's editorial independence is paramount and that the BBC should not be pressurised by Government as to what it can and cannot broadcast," he said.

Mr Whittingdale said a lot of people think there is still scope for "further efficiencies in terms of the bureaucracy and the management of the BBC" - and he referred to BBC sitcom W1A which deals with the day-to-day running of the corporation.

The show features people who have job titles such as head of values and it shows employees regularly in meetings and getting very little work done.

"One of the reasons why W1A is such a wonderful programme is because in just in the same way as The Thick Of It and Yes Prime Minister had a ring of truth about Whitehall, people think that W1A has a ring of truth about the BBC.

"And you do say, you know, head of values, what on earth is that?"

In the course of the interview, Mr Whittingdale said: "I would be very unhappy if the BBC didn't exist." He said this was not a debate about whether the BBC should exist.


From Belfast Telegraph