John Whittingdale claims he is not 'dismantling the BBC' and that it's future is not under threat

'This idea that there is an ideological drive to destroy the BBC is just extraordinary'

Ian Burrell
Wednesday 26 August 2015 20:00 BST
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John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport
John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport

The Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has claimed he has no intention of "dismantling the BBC" and accused defenders of the broadcaster of "tilting at windmills" by suggesting its future is under threat from the Government.

"This idea that there is an ideological drive to destroy the BBC is just extraordinary, the people rushing to defend the BBC are tilting at windmills, they are trying to have an argument that has never been started, certainly not by me," he said, during an interview session at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Mr Whittingdale expressed regret that his announcement of a Green Paper on the future of the BBC had come "so close" to a licence fee settlement that has left the BBC £700m worse off. "I would rather those things had not come as close as they did. It has created an impression that's entirely wrong."

BBC sympathiser: Dame Judi Dench (Getty)

The decision to make the BBC cover the cost of providing free licences to the over-75s and the consultation on the broadcaster's future role has prompted high-profile sympathisers, from Dame Judi Dench and Stephen Fry to former Tory minister Lord Fowler, to warn of the consequences of damaging the BBC. Similar sentiments were voiced last night by Armando Iannucci, in a lecture at the festival.

But Mr Whittingdale went out of his way to convince the television industry audience of his admiration for the BBC. He said it made "some of the best programmes around the world". He professed himself a "huge supporter" of the BBC World Service. "Britain's image abroad is enormously strengthened by the success of the BBC."

He withdrew an historic comment that Strictly Come Dancing's suitability as a BBC show was "debatable" and instead branded it as "absolutely appropriate for the BBC to do". He said that the BBC did "an absolutely fantastic job" in its production of children's television.

'Strictly' co-hosts Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly

Such comments might not go down to well with the Chancellor George Osborne or hardline Conservative backbenchers who regard the BBC as an ideological adversary. But the Culture Secretary, questioned by ITV newsreader Alastair Stewart, said he did not view the broadcaster's output as politically partisan. "Do I think there is general bias towards the left? No."

Asked about possible future funding models for the BBC, Mr Whittingdale said a subscription model, based on internet-connected TV sets, was not viable when 5 per cent of households would still be without super fast broadband in 2017. "For the moment, the licence fee or something like it is the best option."

Mr Whittingdale's positive appraisal of the BBC was seized on by the Director of BBC Television, Danny Cohen, who said the corporation would "bank all those good statements". But he insisted that the BBC was still facing major cuts and an uncertain future, adding "we know that we are not through the process yet".

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