BBC journalist Clive Myrie has called on whoever is appointed the new secretary of state for culture under Liz Truss to “make a renewed commitment to quality public service broadcasting, at the BBC and Channel 4.”
Truss was appointed Prime Minister earlier today, replacing Boris Johnson. She is expected to appoint a new cabinet, including a new secretary of state for the department of culture, sport and media, who will take over from incumbent minister Nadine Dorries.
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Delivering the Royal Television Society’s Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture at the University of Westminster on Monday evening, Myrie also championed the BBC’s commitment to impartiality, in comments that could potentially be interpreted as a rebuttal to his former colleague Emily Maitlis’s Edinburgh TV Festival lecture two weeks ago.
“[Public service broadcasting] is too important to be left in the hands of a free market,” Myrie said in his speech. He also put forward a critique of the subscription-based model the BBC would likely turn to in the event its public funding, via the annual license fee, were revoked, pointing out that “the market is now saturated” and that subscriber-based streaming platforms were slashing spending as subscriber numbers drop.
“If the subscription model is adopted…. but the revenues aren’t coming in at high enough levels, what of universality, the principle that’s helped cement the BBC at the heart of our nation for a hundred years?” he asked.
He also added that many vital elements of programming, such as news, aren’t sellable in the way formats are, and would likely be eroded by a private entity. “Can we guarantee there will be a Channel 4 News after privatisation?” Myrie asked. “Not necessarily.”
Myrie, a foreign correspondent who has been especially prominent during his coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said: “Too many people undervalue the BBC and what it gives to this country and the rest of the world. As a foreign correspondent for many years based right around the globe, I know how much people from other countries value BBC programmes. And now is the time, in an age of lies and deceit and propaganda with no shame….now is the time…when the BBC is needed the most.”
Myrie also discussed how the BBC is attacked from all sides, including those who claim it is a propaganda machine for the government (as Maitlis suggested last month) and those who claim it is too “woke.” “Hooray they’d say [if the BBC were no more]. No more woke news, wokeist programming, wokey left-wing indoctrination and pernicious identity politics. No more wokey blokeys, telling me I can’t sing ‘Rule Britannia’ at the ‘Last Night of the Proms’…No more bonkers wokites banging on about the Lionesses having no Black players when they’ve just won the friggin’ Euros!” Myrie said, imitating one swathe of the BBC’s critics.
“And others might say HOORAY, but curiously for EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE REASONS,” he continued. “…No more right-wing propaganda they’d chant. No more pandering to reactionary forces, caving in to Government pressure at every turn. It’s a BBC that’s cowed they say…by the powerful……an institution that’s lost it’s nerve…, and refuses to call out the bleedin’ obvious. It’s a broadcaster not fit for a post truth world of populists and liars… because- believe the critics- only their version of the truth matters, only their voice should be heard…They have right on their side and everybody can SEE IT. Impartiality is a false God.”
Myrie went on to say that the BBC’s objectivity is precisely why it continues to be regarded as a beacon of trust in an era of fake news, explaining: “To strive for an objective truth, is somehow old fashioned, even boring. It’s messy too. Impartiality is an analogue concept in a digital world. It sounds technical, bureaucratic…..it sounds very BBC! So I’m going to use a different word- fairness. Impartiality is simply what’s fair!”
“The public wants the BBC to stand for something, and surely that must be fairness. Opinion is one side of an argument, and putting one side of an argument isn’t honest, some might argue it isn’t decent, or morally acceptable in news and current affairs. I would argue, it certainly isn’t fair.”
At the Edinburgh TV Festival two weeks ago Maitlis, who left the BBC earlier this year, suggested that “both sides-ism” was tantamount to “false equivalence” and labelling the corporation’s communications director “an active agent of the Conservative Party.”
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