Nadine Dorries, the new UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has suggested the BBC licence fee is under threat and that the corporation may not even exist in ten years if it doesn’t change its ways.
In a scathing attack at The Telegraph’s Choppers’ Political Podcast fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Dorries said that she had already met with the recent arrivals at the BBC, Director General Tim Davie and Chairman Richard Sharp and put them straight on the way the licence fee negotiation would be run.
She said wants better representation and diversity throughout the corporation, both on-air and behind the scenes. ‘We’re having a discussion about how the BBC can become more representative of the people who pay the licence fee… not just people whose mum and dad worked there,’ she told Tory members.
Despite years of attempts to address the perceived elitism at the BBC, she claims that ‘group think’ had continued to exclude people from working-class backgrounds and that you needed a double-barrelled name, to have gone to the right school or have a parent or close relative in management to get in. She said wanted the choice of staff to be based on a fairer approach, ‘less elitist and less snobbish.’
She claimed that ‘The perspective of the BBC is that they will get a settlement fee and then we will talk about how they are going to change. My perspective is, tell me how you are going to change and then you get the settlement fee.’
She claimed that all the pathways that she and her working-class schoolmates had followed to become broadcasters, authors, journalists, record producers and any other role in the arts and culture had ‘completely disappeared’ and that everything was based on nepotism.
Some on the left may agree with Minister Dorries’ criticism. Both ends of the political spectrum have increased their attacks on BBC News over the last few years, both claiming its coverage is biased against them. Many others have said that it had become harder to access a drama career if your accent didn’t fit.
Dorries insists that she’s not going to go to war with the BBC; that she wants constructive dialogue about how it’s going to change. But she has clearly decided that change is needed and is willing to wave the licence fee negotiation over the corporation management’s head until it agrees to her demands.
This type of Government pressure is exactly what Richard Sharpe insisted could not happen, in answer to a question from MUSIC:ED at the CogX Conference in London in June. He claimed that the BBC’s independence was sacrosanct.
Dorries, however, thinks otherwise. ‘Will the BBC still be here in 10 years? I don’t know. It’s a very competitive environment at the moment.’ This is the same competitive environment that she said may push Channel 4 to be privatised. ‘Channel 4 is in a very good place at the moment, but if it wants to grow then the obvious choice would be to privatise it.’