Wednesday, April 24

Tories go to war with the BBC



John Whittingdale, who has been chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee since 2005, has previously said that the licence fee is “worse than a poll tax” and ultimately “unsustainable”.

Downing Street sources said that Mr Whittingdale will “sort out the BBC” ahead of the corporation’s royal charter review next year, which will set out the future of the £145.50-a-year licence fee. 

Senior Conservatives said they were “furious at the BBC’s coverage” of the election campaign and accused the corporation of an “unforgivable pro-Labour bias”.

There are now concerns that the corporation’s coverage of the EU referendum in 2017 could betray a pro-EU bias.

Friends of Mr Whittingdale said he is at the very least likely to freeze the licence fee and could implement significant cuts.

He is also expected to scrap the BBC Trust, the body that oversees the corporation, after a series of scandals over its coverage and executive pay-offs.

His appointment will enable the Conservatives to push ahead with the decriminalisation of the licence fee, which was blocked in the last Parliament in the House of Lords. 

Senior Tories repeatedly clashed with the BBC during the election campaign and were particularly infuriated by the corporation’s attempts to force David Cameron to take part in a head-to-head leadership debate.

He has also called for the BBC Trust, the body which oversees the corporation, to be scrapped.

In February his select committee published a damning report which heavily criticised the BBC for the scale of executive pay-offs and its handling of the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine scandals. The report concluded that the BBC Trust should be scrapped.

Mr Whittingdale has also pushed for the National Audit Office to be given unrestricted access to the corporation’s accounts to ensure licence fee payers’ money is well-spent.

Last year European Scrutiny Committee concluded that the corporation’s coverage of the EU is biased and letting down viewers.

Bill Cash, the chairman of the committee in the last parliament, said: “There are very, very serious concerns that the BBC will not cover the referendum properly and demonstrate a pro-European bias.”

After a reshuffle which saw women promoted to some of the most senior posts in government, Mr Cameron said: “Every decision we take, every policy we pursue, every programme we initiate, never forget: we’re here to give everyone in our country the chance to make the most of their life.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We’re looking forward to working with the new Secretary of State. It was a highly charged election and it’s nothing new for all sides to feel strongly about coverage but we reported on it impartially and in depth as viewers and listeners expect.” 

Elizabeth Truss, the environment secretary, called Mr Whittingdale’s promotion an “inspired appointment” and called it “very, very good to see”.

Dominic Raab, Tory MP for Esher and Walton, called the move the “appointment of the day” and said he could think of “no one” better placed to reform the BBC license fee.