Whittingdale’s Priorities

In September 2003, more than three years before the expiry of the last Charter, the Secretary of State at the time appointed an independent adviser on the BBC Charter Review and held a series of seminars to debate a number of key issues, identified through public consultation, for Charter Review. The public seminars ran from July to December 2004 and looked at a range of topics such as how the BBC was run and regulated, what its purposes should be, on television, radio and online services, and its role in education, citizenship, culture, representing the nations and regions of the UK and its international role.

In contrast, this time round, the Rt Hon. Sajid Javid had chosen to postpone the Charter Review until after the general election, to avoid it being “too politicised and risks distorting the process”, even though this would leave around half the time that was allowed before the 2007 Charter and therefore not sufficient time. His job was to sit tight until the election, and so he did.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, (of which the Rt. Hon. Whittingdale was chairman before becoming Secretary of State for Culture, Media and sports) said: “For it to be meaningful, Charter Review must allow sufficient time for a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of the BBC and enable members of the public and all other stakeholders the opportunity to voice their views on the BBC’s future.  [… ] Consideration of the future of the BBC is too important to rush. The BBC Trust must demonstrate a readiness and willingness to ensure that a full and frank debate takes place on all aspects of the BBC as part of Charter Review including through its own engagement with licence fee payers on all the fundamental issues concerning the BBC.”

James Harding, Director of News and Current Affairs, said the “BBC Charter Renewal, coming hot on the heels of a General Election, was an unhappy coincidence“. “Hot on the heels” is the understatement of the century, the revision should have been well underway by the time of the General Election.  Delaying the issue was a strategic decision.  The government deliberately planned a period of time too short to review the Charter, counting on the extra 3 months that the TV licence fee is offering them (it expires 3 months after the Renewal date), and hoping for an extension or a temporary measure to fix up their cock-up. This is not in the interest of the public. And because they pushed this issue right after the election, because election happen every 5 years and renewal of the Charter, usually every 10 years, it’s going to be that way for ever now.

When I asked to meet the Righ Hon. John Whittingdale, I was told that the Secretary of State’s diary was “very tight in the lead up to summer recess”. At the time (June), I offered to book an appointment for autumn. This was met with another “no”. The fact that I represent over 165,000 people with my petition End the BBC Licence Fee, i-e a group almost 3 time bigger than Whittingdale’s whole electorate in his constituency was simply shrugged off. Which made me wonder, what are his priorities?

Rumors has it, Whittingdale will ask for a temporary extension. Quelle surprise!

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