The BBC is taking the battle for the licence fee to its sternest critics after launching a “fact-check” blog in response to a series of attacks by The Sun.
The infographics, published on the BBC Media Centre website, contain a point-by-point critique of two editorials in the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper which accused the BBC of “left-wing prejudices” and squandering the licence fee on “staggering” executive pay deals.
The blog follows a call by Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, for the corporation to adopt an “aggressive” approach in making the case for the licence fee in the run up to the renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016.
Danny Cohen, the BBC Director of Television, engaged in a Twitter row with a Daily Mirror journalist over what he called a “lazy, annually repeated” story today, which accused the BBC of scheduling more repeats at Christmas than ever before.
Social media is seen as a vital battleground. The BBC blog, titled The facts behind The Sun’s editorials, December 2-3, 2014, was rapidly retweeted by the corporation’s supporters.
The Sun argued that the number of senior BBC managers earning more than the Prime Minister was rising. The paper said “nothing has changed” at the BBC, despite scandals over excessive executive pay deals. The BBC replied: “In fact since 2009 we’ve driven down the number of senior managers and the senior manager paybill by over a third.”
Where The Sun accused the BBC of handing out top jobs to friends of senior executives on the basis of “who you know”, the BBC rebuttal said: “Just like The Sun, sometimes where people are uniquely suited for the role there is no need for lengthy and costly recruitment processes.”
The blog will not become a daily feature, BBC insiders said but will be used as a way to communicate directly to the public whenever the corporation felt it needed to rebut a damaging attack.
The BBC no longer feels it must passively absorb criticism. A source said: “We know we deliver great value for the licence fee, but we also know some people will use any opportunity to attack us. That’s only going to intensify as we head towards negotiating a new Charter.
“If people take a swipe at the BBC we’re not going to stand back and let it go unchallenged. If we don’t make the case for the BBC and show the value people get for their £2.80 a week, why should anyone else? We will absolutely stand our ground where we need to.”
Mr Cohen continued the “front foot” approach when he told journalists at a BBC Christmas event: “The BBC is a great British company, not a government department. Perhaps this is time for a little less of the critical friend and a bit more of the friend.”
When the Mirror journalist who wrote the “repeats” story objected to being called “lazy” and “shoddy” by the BBC executive on Twitter, Mr Cohen replied: “Not pleasant being criticised I know. BBC gets it every day.” The Mirror stood by its story which described the Christmas schedules as “mind-numbing.” According to its analysis: “The cash-strapped BBC is the worst with 47 per cent repeats on BBC1 and 74 per cent on BBC2.”
BBC insiders speculated that The Sun had resumed hostilities in response to the BBC’s Panorama documentary about Mazher Mahmood, the Sun on Sunday reporter. The Crown Prosecution Service is re-examining 25 cases in which people were convicted largely on evidence supplied by Mahmood after a High Court judge suggested the journalist had told “lies” during the trial of Tulisa Contostavlos.
The BBC also faced criticism by George Osborne, who accused the Today programme of “hyperbolic” coverage of the Chancellor’s planned spending cuts, designed to conjure up bogus images of the 1930s depression.
A BBC spokesman said: “We're satisfied our coverage and analysis has been fair and balanced and we gave the Chancellor plenty of opportunity to respond on the programme.
"We will continue to ask ministers the questions our audience want answered.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies