Following the 2015 General Election that saw the Conservative Party reclaim its first majority in 23 years, prompting the swift departure of three opposition party leaders, stepped John Whittingdale onto the scene.
Whittingdale, a career Tory with deep ties to Margaret Thatcher – he served as her Private Secretary in the 1980’s – took on the role of Culture, Media and Sport Secretary in David Cameron’s then newly formed Cabinet. Whittingdale is a right wing Tory; one who has voted against gay marriage legalisation and equal rights for the LGBT community. He has also voted for the lifting of the fox hunting ban, as well as being in favour of the Iraq invasion of 2003.
The new Culture, Media and Sport Secretary also has very close ties to the Murdoch empire – mogul Rupert Murdoch in particular. This is a relationship that was first exposed during the intensive questioning of James and Rupert Murdoch by a Parliament select committee. back in 2011, over the phone-hacking scandal.
In his short time as Culture Secretary, Whittingdale has shown that he means business; announcing plans to push for the TV licences of the 0ver-75s to be paid for by the BBC, estimated to cost around £750m, as well as moving towards abolishing the BBC Trust; both of which have proven to be controversial in measure. The over-75 TV licence is an interesting debate; should the BBC – a publicly funded body – be put in charge of social policy through being forced to provide funding of the fee?
The response to the proposed abolition of the BBC Trust – the governing body of the BBC and one ultimately in charge of deciding how licence fee income is spent – was met with strong criticism in the media. The BBC Trust is in charge of setting the overall strategic direction of the BBC, it is vital to the continued survival of the corporation. In a letter sent via email to the Culture Secretary, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead, wrote of the worry in how the decision for the BBC to fund the over-75s TV licence came about. With no public consultation or discussion within the BBC itself, the deal has oft been described as being ‘quick and dirty’ with the Director General, Tony Hall, in change of saddling an awful lot of budget cuts for the BBC in real terms. Fairhead, although accepting the sweeping budgetary changes to the BBC, made the Trust’s position clear that it was unhappy in the decision not to allow the public a say in the controversial fee-paying policy.
The fight for the future of the BBC has become a high-profile debate with many celebrities, writers, journalists and other public figures coming out in support of the continued survival of the media corporation. In response to the BBC footing the bill for over-75s, Joan Bakewell a veteran broadcaster, pitched the idea that if you – as an over-75 citizen – could pay the £145.50 (current licence fee cost), then you have a social and moral responsibility to write to TV Licensing and request that you restart annual payments so as to decrease the burden on the BBC. Other public figures such as revered children’s writer J.K. Rowling and long-time broadcaster, Jonathan Dimbleby have voiced concern for the continuation of the BBC, as we know it, urging the public to voice their support for the public media corporation.
Will the BBC survive in its current form? Will the real term cuts, as well providing over-75s with free TV licences be the thorn on the public corporation’s side? Are we seeing just the beginning of what Whittingdale has in store for the revered BBC?
It is with a heavy heart that, as the days roll by, this may well be the case.