BBC social media issue ‘has been out of control’, says former Radio 4 boss

BBC presenters’ use of social media to express political views became “out of control”, a former Radio 4 boss has said.

Mark Damazer spoke as new director-general Tim Davie signalled the broadcaster would be clamping down on social media use.

Damazer told a talk on the future of the BBC: “The social media thing has been out of control.

Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC
Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC

“I’m very glad that Tim said what he said … to give (predecessor) Tony (Hall) his credit, I think he was beginning to be on it before he left.

“But clearly, some of the things that BBC news presenters and others have done on social media would not be acceptable to me and I’m happy to say that on the record.”

But the former BBC Radio 4 controller defended BBC programming.

There are times when “I’m throwing some stuff at the radio and television in despair, but broadly … when I’m listening to the broad swathe of BBC output”, it is “fair-minded” and “represents some kind of multiple perspective”, he said.

The “top-rated BBC correspondents and presenters do a remarkably good job of it”, he said.

“My beef is lack of intellectual ambition from time to time. I should be knowing more about what’s going on outside the UK …

“I can be infuriated by that. It doesn’t mean I think the BBC is in a cesspit of left-wing bias or even wokeness.”

Damazer said the broadcaster was wrong to schedule Rule, Britannia! at the Last Night of the Proms without lyrics and right to make a U-turn.

“The BBC is trying to navigate” a complicated country, he said.

“It’s difficult and it makes mistakes, Rule, Britannia! being one.

“But the notion that it’s paralysed by wokeness in all its output I simply don’t accept,” he said, highlighting the annual Service of Remembrance and 75th anniversary of VE Day on BBC One.

Ending the TV licence “would be an act of sheer vandalism”, he said, and politicians wanting the benefits of the broadcaster while eroding its funding base was like “arguing for fried snowballs”.

Julian Knight, Conservative MP and chair of the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport select committee, said non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised.

He told the talk, held by the Institute of Economic Affairs, there could be “enhanced civil penalties” instead.

The MP said of new director-general Davie’s start at the corporation: “Woke culture is a massive turn-off to an awful lot of viewers. I like to think that’s going to be recognised.”

Knight hoped to see a “slimmed down BBC” instead of one which does “too much”.

And he added: “Morally, I think the licence fee is on its way out … over a period of time.”