BBC-bashing: a modern ritual

Churchill did it, so did Harold Wilson, Norman Tebbit - even John Birt. But how will the BBC respond to the latest tirades?

There is nothing accidental about the current Conservative attack on the BBC. If you substitute the name of the former Today presenter Brian Redhead for John Humphrys, you get a real sense of dj vu. Nor is it surprising that John Major has backed the campaign started last weekend by one of his most media-hardened and savvy ministers, Jonathan Aitken.

The Government is in trouble, facing local government elections that will offer no cheer, while the party itself is torn between sticking with its leader or swinging behind an autumn challenger, as the General Election looms. John Major is offering himself up for a rare Panorama interview with David Dimbleby next Monday, the first since the last election. So waving a stick at broadcasters is a rational way to try to deflect some of the most damning coverage.

"If you don't like the message, then bash the messenger," observed one senior BBC figure yesterday about the Government's attempts to intimidate. But the other question is whether the Government has been encouraged to be more shamelessly hostile because the BBC has offered itself up as a soft target. It is difficult to overestimate the anger aroused within the BBC by last month's speech by the director-general John Birt, in Dublin, in which he criticised confrontation, studio argy-barging and overbearing interviewers. "He opened the way for it, even if he didn't mean to," says one senior journalist.

But how vulnerable is the BBC? The jaundiced view is that the Corporation is always open to government attack because it is a creature of the state, funded by a licence fee whose level is set by government. But the current attack lacks the venom of the 1986/87 raids orchestrated by Norman Tebbit as Tory chairman and so effectively backed by the nit-picking approach of Dr Julian Lewis at the Media Monitoring Unit (see right). These had a far more ideological bent.

In fact, since John Major became Prime Minister, the BBC has enjoyed a remarkably peaceful era. The proof lies in last summer's White Paper on the Corporation guaranteeing continuation of the licence fee for at least five years. True, the BBC is anxious to know whether the basis of its indexed annual rise will continue after 1996, and if the transmitter network will be privatised, but it detects no political appetite (or votes) for wielding the axe.

So we are watching here a modern ritual of British politics. Not pretty, but like the first cuckoo of spring, a signal that an election is on the way.

Maggie Brown

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own