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Is the Culture Secretary ready to fight the BBC?

800px-Official_portrait_of_Oliver_Dowden_crop_2.jpgOliver Dowden (pictured left), the new Culture Secretary, gave a speech at the Enders Media and Telecoms Conference yesterday. He told the audience that "in the coming years we will of course be taking a proper look at our public service broadcasting system and the BBC’s central role within it." He also said that we need to consider three questions. Does the BBC truly reflect all of our nation and is it close to the British people? Does the BBC guard its unique selling point of impartiality in all of its output? Is the BBC ready to embrace proper reform to ensure its long term sustainability for the decades ahead?

The answer to the first question is yes and no. Many people do feel close to the BBC, although more people are moving away from its content. But when you consider that the BBC has been part of the lives of all of us who have grown up in the UK, this is hardly surprising. What I can't accept is that the BBC truly reflects all of our nation.

In a recent interview with Philip Davies MP, we discussed how most working people rely on buses and their cars to get them to work. Many do use trains, but they tend to be used by more middle class people. You will never hear stories on the Today programme about bus service provision outside London, although you will hear stories about trains on a regular basis.

In many parts of the country rail travel is not a feasible option, but those responsible for deciding editorial content live in or around London. They have Tube trains running every couple of minutes; if they miss a bus, there's another one a few minutes later; and they have regular train services from all of the capital's main railway stations. 

That is just one example of many that I could give. The BBC is out of touch with ordinary people on range of issues from Brexit to climate change. Lord (Nigel) Lawson can't get a platform with the BBC when he casts doubt about the effects of man-made climate change. But the BBC can't get enough of Greta Thunberg. 

I have more or less already answered the second question. Because of its metropolitan world view, it is not regarded by millions of people in this country as an impartial broadcaster. I don't think that BBC journalists go out of their way to be biased - it's just that they think that their views are the views of the many. They're not. 

The third question is the most crucial. Is the BBC ready to embrace proper reform to ensure its long term sustainability for the decades ahead? All the evidence so far suggests that it is not. For example, it refuses to scale back its operations. Here is a list of current BBC television channels: 

BBC Three
BBC Four
BBC News Channel
BBC Parliament
BBC World News
BBC Hindi TV
BBC Marathi TV
BBC Scotland

Here is a list of national radio stations:

Radio Glastonbury
Radio 1
Radio 1Xtra
Radio 2
Radio 2 Country
Radio 2 Eurovision
Music Jazz
Radio 3
Radio 4
Radio 4 Extra
Radio 5 live
Radio 5 live sports extra
Radio 6 Music
Asian Network
World Service
Radio 1 Vintage
CBeebies Radio

And finally, a list of Nations Radio:

Radio Scotland
Radio Cymru 2
Radio Scotland Music Extra
Radio nan Gàidheal
Radio Ulster
Radio Foyle
Radio Wales
Radio Cymru

I haven't included the list of all 40 local radio stations, nor have I mentioned the other international television channels. I haven't mentioned the BBC news website which insists on being hyper local, often to the detriment of local newspapers. Everywhere you look on the media landscape, the BBC is never far away. It tries to tell us that the licence fee is great value for money because of this, and yet more of us are still turning our backs on the BBC in favour of other services. 

The BBC has enormous problems. It is trying to stay relevant wedded to a funding system which is an analogue solution in a digital age. Whenever there are problems in Europe, the EU's answer is more centralisation; more Europe. The BBC suffers from the same delusions. 

Will the Government insist on reform and ensure that the BBC is a leaner organisation? The BBC will fight ministers tooth and claw if it goes down that route. Is the Culture Secretary ready to fight the BBC? 

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