Letter: BBC and Parliament

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The Independent Online
YOU REPORTED (27 February) that, following a confrontation between the chairman of the BBC and Gerald Kaufman MP, Sir Christopher Bland has written to make clear that he has no intention of complying with the wishes of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that he delay implementation of the BBC's plans to change its coverage of Parliament until the committee has published its own report next month.

You quote Sir Christopher as saying he believes such an undertaking would seriously compromise the independence of the BBC Governors.

This claim highlights a convenient intellectual smokescreen that has arisen over the corporation's duties towards Parliament. There is universal agreement that the BBC should be "independent"; the question is - independent of what? Of day-to-day editorial interference by the Government, certainly. Independent of the sovereignty of Parliament, of the Royal Charter and Agreement (themselves expressing Parliament's will), of the national interest or of the citizen licence-payer, surely not.

A Select Committee is not the Government. It is an all-party affair, representative of all strands of the House of Commons. It is not just one of the vital organs of our society, alongside broadcasting; it is part of the sovereign organ. For a healthy and civilised democracy, those vital organs must have respect for each other's functions and not - as broadcasting seems increasing to do - continually try to trump, upstage, browbeat or outsmart one another. The increasing neglect of parliamentary proceedings by the media, when they are not actively pouring scorn on them, is neglect and scorn poured on our unique and precious form of democracy itself.

Sir Christopher's defiance of the Select Committee is a prime examples of the belief of far too many media people that they somehow lead, or should develop, agenda separate to the overall anatomy of the society of which they are part whether they like it or not. Any organisation embarking on that route is well on the way to becoming an overmighty subject, which carries the seeds of its own rapid destruction, as the last overmighty subject, the trades unions, found not so very long ago.

I do urge Sir Christopher to think again and delay the BBC's plans only until next month, thereby demonstrating the corporation's overriding interest in the health of the nation it serves, rather than the heady machismo of its own self-importance.


Somerford Keynes, Gloucestershire