Shadow Culture Secretary on the future of the BBC 2015

bbc_digital17:16 Tuesday 14th July 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: What is the future of the BBC? You’ve probably seen the recent headlines, which programes do we want, where could cuts be made, is the licence fee fit for purpose. The Government’s looking at it. They set up a high-profile panel to consider the very future of the BBC. And on Tuesday a Government Green Paper, a consultation, will reportedly ask whether the BBC should stop chasing ratings, and rethink how many popular entertainment programmes it broadcasts. Earlier today the BBC published its Annual Report and Accounts, with the Director General Tony Hall saying it had a duty to inform, educate and entertain. Let’s get the vies from the Shadow Front Bench, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is Chris Bryant, who is concerned about the future of the BBC. He joins me now. Hell.
CHRIS BRYANT: Good evening Chris. Chris and Chris. Two Chrises.
CHRIS MANN: Indeed. A lot to do with the BBC. It’s under attack like never before. What is the future of the BBC as far as you’re concerned?
CHRIS BRYANT: I want a strong BBC, because I think there’s a golden thread that runs through the very concept of the licence fee, which is we all pay in, we all get something out. You might want big sporting events, I might prefer opera. Somebody else might prefer The Voice or Strictly. But it’s got to be inform, educate AND entertain. And my anxiety is that there’s been so much dark briefing from Conservative Ministers, normally to the Murdoch newspapers, to the Sunday Times and the like, saying oh we want to cut the BBC down to size. We want to slim it down. We want to stop it making Strictly and The Voice and things like that. And I just think that that is a terrible shame. The BBC is like our cultural NHS. It’s one of the things we do best in the world.
CHRIS MANN: But it’s a huge organisation worldwide, and it covers so many areas. There are some pretty startling figures in the Annual Report and Accounts. Salaries there and other expenses you’ll have seen. Doesn’t it need cutting down to size?

CHRIS BRYANT: Cutting down to size I think is the wrong word. Of course it needs to reform. Technology is changing. The i-Player and Sky Plus have changed how many families¬†watch television. But it doesn’t mean that the fundamentals have changed, which is that it’s the cornerstone of all our creative industries. There’s ¬£3.7 billion spent on programmes, which if that money was not spent, let’s say you took the BBC out of existence, ITV wouldn’t fill the gap, you’d end up watching just lots of American programming, because compared to the United States, America, we’re a tiny tiny market.
CHRIS MANN: And of course a lot of BBC output is local, like this radio station and the others in the network and the nations and also local television. There’s to be a review of BBC Local services as you know, another review. What’s your view on the part that we play?
CHRIS BRYANT: The Prime Minister has apparently held forth that there is a problem with local radio, and with the BBC internet service, because he says that it’s led to the death of local newspapers. I think that is nonsense. The reason my local newspaper has gone from 40,000 readers fifteen years ago to 4,000 today is because people used to buy the newspapers to buy a house or buy a car, or to see photos of their kids in school on St David’s Day. None of that applies now. We do all those things online, and Facebook is just as important for finding out what’s happened at your local council or in local services as anything else. So I don’t think it’s the BBC that’s provided that problem for newspapers. I used to be a Foreign Office Minister. I don’t think I ever met a foreign politician or a foreign diplomat who didn’t have a good word to say for the BBC. Whether it was programmes like Sherlock, which is shown in 224 different territories round the world, and earns money for the UK, or impartial news and current affairs. Can you imagine the BBC not having a news channel? Or not having a news website? I simply can’t see it.
CHRIS MANN: OK, but what about the licence fee, when so many people aren’t paying it? They’re refusing to pay it. And of course it’s no longer becoming an offence.
CHRIS BRYANT: It is still an offence.
CHRIS MANN: It’s still an offence but they’re not being prosecuted.
CHRIS BRYANT: Well, no, that’s not true. The Government hasn’t decided whether to de-criminalise non-payment of the licence fee yet. And apparently they’re going to be publishing a report. And I’ll be interested to look at it on Thursday on all of that. Look, the truth is of course the world has changed, technology has changed and so on. But now the big shows have audiences not only at the moment that they’re shown live on TV, but also two hours later, three hours later, later on in the weekend and so on. And that means for the big must-watch shows you’re accumulating a bigger audience. That’s why 97% of people in Britain last year had some connection with the BBC every week. 97%! It’s phenomenally good value, and my anxiety is we have a system that is renown across the world. Why on earth would you want to mess with it? Why would you want to cut the BBC down to size? Is it because you want to take entertainment programmes off air? Do you want to take sport off air? Or is it because you’ve got some grudge against the BBC? There was a really chilling .. the day after the General Election, the front page of the Daily Express said, BBC must now pay the price for its blatant anti-Conservative bias. Well I think that shows the anti-BBC bias of the Daily Express. And the vast majority of the people in this country support the BBC, they think it should do entertainment programmes, and the Government will not be carrying the nation with it if it engages in a bully crusade against the BBC.
CHRIS MANN: Chris Bryant, thank you for joining us. the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport there live from our London studios.