The BBC and Channel 4 may fear the worst as the anti-Public Service Broadcasting agenda led by Boris Johnson’s administration looks set to continue under a Liz Truss premiership, with all eyes trained on whether Nadine Dorries remains Culture Secretary.
As expected, Truss comfortably won the race to be the next Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister this afternoon, and multiple connected sources have indicated they expect BBC arch-sceptic Dorries to remain in post.
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Dorries is feared by the public broadcasters. She pushed through the start of Channel 4’s privatization, signaled that she wants the BBC license fee to be abolished after 2027 and has made multiple inflammatory remarks throughout her yearlong tenure, including her accusation that a Channel 4 reality show she took part in a decade ago used actors instead of ordinary people. This was heavily disputed by Tower Block of Commons‘ producer Love Productions. On the latter, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMSC) member John Nicolson has written to Parliament calling for an inquiry into allegations she misled Parliament.
“This is less about Truss than it is about Truss’s decision on Dorries,” said a source familiar with the thinking of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport department. “Most expect her to be kept in post — Truss will like the signal that sends out.”
Should Dorries fail to keep her current role, there is a decent chance that the former I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! contestant will step down as an MP — something Truss, who will find out how many allies she truly has in the weeks ahead, would be keen to avoid.
Another connected source told Deadline the “agenda will remain the same” if Dorries keeps her job.
Away from Dorries, Truss’ various comments regarding public broadcasting on the summer campaign trail will not exactly have filled the BBC or Channel 4 with confidence.
Under pressure to reverse Channel 4 privatization, which was opposed by 96% of respondents to the government consultation, she didn’t outright say she would push on but insisted she “prefers to have companies operating in the private sector” when questioned on the subject. Sunak had also said he would not reverse the decision.
UK producer trade body Pact has already started ramping up lobbying and sent an open letter signed by 750 production companies to both Truss and Sunak late last week, urging them to reconsider the “devastating” plans. More lobbying is likely, while our first source said Channel 4 will be “hoping the national economic crisis will be keeping the government busy and distracted.” Truss is expected to set out an economic plan later this week.
Meanwhile, a Truss premiership may mean yet another review into decriminalizing non-payment of the BBC license fee, an issue that rears its head every time a UK government wants to put the BBC back in its cage. The corporation has frequently proved, most recently in 2020, that barely anyone goes to prison for non-payment and decriminalization would cost it millions of pounds in lost revenue, but Truss has said she will review the measure.
A similar review into the very future of the £159.50 ($183.70) annual license fee is about to start and could take up to a year, ending with the funding model potentially being abolished after 2027, which could be incredibly damaging as public service broadcasters all across Europe face similar punishing measures.
The BBC has had a taxing time covering Truss’ campaign and she even used an appearance on the right-leaning GB News to state: “Unlike the BBC, you get your facts right,” in what was deemed a heavily inflammatory remark.
She then swerved an interview with BBC broadcaster Nick Robinson after Sunak had subjected himself to a grilling, with Robinson later tweeting to say he was “disappointed and frustrated.”
Relations soured further over the weekend after the debut Laura Kuenssberg Show, the BBC’s brand-spanking new Sunday morning political format, featured comedian Joe Lycett on the panel, who was heavily critical of the Conservative government. That controversy made the front page of this morning’s anti-BBC Daily Mail meaning the BBC is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons on the day that Truss becomes premier.
Comedians “making fun of politicians is a story as old as the hills,” however, said a third well-connected source, who believes the Lycett controversy “is not material to the BBC’s overall position.”
Our source actually backed the BBC’s value to be enhanced as the cost-of-living crisis sets in and people choose to unsubscribe from streamers or cut the cord on pay-TV services.
BBC Director General Tim Davie will get his chance to have his say on the new government as soon as tomorrow when he and BBC Chair Richard Sharp face the DCMSC. Navigating that one will be tough, as Davie looks to make a positive impression while remaining politically neutral.
By the end of this week, the very futures of the BBC and Channel 4 could be decided upon.
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