Labour: John Whittingdale must not ignore public's wishes over new BBC Charter


Culture Secretary John Whittingdale must not ignore the wishes of the public as he prepares to publish a White Paper on BBC Charter renewal, Labour has warned.

Shadow Culture Secretary Maria Eagle said Mr Whittingdale "seems determined to diminish" the corporation, adding that the Labour party will oppose him "all the way".

Her comments came just hours after Wolf Hall actor Mark Rylance led a passionate defence of the BBC at the Bafta TV Awards as big names from the small screen spoke up ahead of a key week in the future of the public-funded broadcaster.

The White Paper could reportedly be published as soon as Thursday and will set out a tougher new regime as part of a proposed deal to grant a new Royal Charter to safeguard the service for another 11 years.

Reports suggest Mr Whittingdale plans to force the BBC to publish how much it pays top talent earning over £150,000 and impose scheduling restrictions to stop it showing hit shows like Strictly Come Dancing at prime time, going head to head with commercial broadcasters.

The Observer reported that at least 20 Tories in the Commons and Lords are ready to oppose the White Paper and attempt to force the Government into another U-turn following climbdowns on forced academisation and admitting child refugees from Europe.

Ms Eagle said: "John Whittingdale seems determined to diminish the BBC and deliver a Charter that ignores the wishes of the public and is not in the interests of the BBC, licence fee payers or our broadcasting industries.

"Proposals to further top slice the licence fee and pack a new governing board with Tory appointees would be a real hammer blow to the independence of the BBC, and be more evidence of mendacious meddling on the part of the Secretary of State. Labour will oppose them all the way.

"The Culture Secretary must stop ignoring the wishes of the public, who are clear that they want the BBC to remain independent and to carry on producing the programmes we all enjoy."

This morning, a cross-party group of peers - Lord Fowler, Lord Lester and Lord Alli - will set out their tests for whether the Culture Secretary has taken account of public concern.

At the Baftas on Sunday night, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky hit out at the Government, saying it was trying to "eviscerate" the BBC, and adding that he felt now "is a dangerous time for broadcasting in Britain".

Speaking as he accepted the award for best drama series, he also warned that this would mean there would be no more productions like the Tudor drama.

He referred to Mr Whittingdale's reported plans to interfere with the scheduling of shows such as the BBC News and Strictly Come Dancing as being similar to the "bastions of democracy Russia and North Korea".

Mr Whittingdale has said the charter is looking at whether the broadcaster should continue to be "all things to all people" or should have a more "precisely targeted" mission in terms of its output.

Senior peers, including former Tory cabinet minister and journalist Lord Fowler, have set out plans to protect the broadcaster from ministerial interference.

The proposed legislation would guarantee the BBC's independence in the management of its own affairs including all matters of output, editorial and creative decisions.

Under the peers' plans the licence fee would rise at least in line with inflation and be for the exclusive use of the BBC, members of a new BBC board would be appointed through an independent committee, and the Royal Charter would be put on a statutory footing with votes in both Houses of Parliament to reduce ministerial interference.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, the Liberal Democrat QC who has drafted the legislative proposal, said: "The BBC is a national treasure and following decisions already taken by ministers to cut funding, the recent debate in the House of Lords showed there is great concern across the country about the broadcaster's future.''