BBC: Government could ‘abolish at any time’ warns expert
The broadcaster has announced plans to move its news operation away from London and ensure that its productions reflect life across the nation to counter accusations of a “liberal, metropolitan bias”. The shift, which means 400 staff relocating out of the capital, follows claims by ministers that the BBC is failing to serve people in Brexit-supporting “Red Wall” towns. The Beeb has faced numerous accusations of sitting on either side of the political fence since it was established in 1922, but Professor of British Studies at the University of Rouen John Mullen explained in his YouTube video ‘History of the BBC’ why it is duty-bound to remain impartial.
He said: “The question of the reasons for the BBC’s status as quasi-independent is well worth discussion.
“Governments have played an absolutely essential role in the history of the BBC.
“It was, of course, established by Government decision under a Royal Charter and its monopoly of television, until 1954, and radio until 1973, were political decisions that were dealt with differently in other democracies.
“The BBC governors – who, in our period, were appointed the director-general of the corporation, were, in their turn, appointed by Government.
The Government could ‘abolish’ the BBC
The BBC has faced criticism
“The Government could, in theory, abolish the BBC at any time.”
Royal charters incorporate a body, turning it from a collection of individuals into a single legal entity.
They are granted by the Queen on the advice of the Privy Council and are within the royal prerogative.
They are legally binding documents, and do not require parliamentary approval and are not generally debated in Parliament.
The BBC was established by Royal Charter in 1927, and is subject to periodic reviews under its agreement with the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – the last one was in 2017.
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The broadcaster is moving some of its offices
But Prof Mullen explained the “interesting paradox” of this situation.
He added: “The Government can abolish the BBC, yet it cannot directly control day-to-day content.
“Prime Ministers occasionally consider their interests as poorly served by the corporation.
“Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties was angry at a series of BBC documentaries that were, nevertheless, screened.
“One of them suggested that high-up leaders of the Conservative Party had links with extreme-right groups.”
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Margaret Thatcher took aim at the BBC
The expert went on to detail how Mrs Thatcher pushed for the privatisation of the broadcaster.
He continued in October: “Thatcher was not happy about that. She often expressed extreme criticism of the BBC.
“When she set up a commission to examine broadcasting in Britain, she was hoping it would recommend privatisation.
“She saw no reason why advertisement shouldn’t fund the BBC, rather than the television license – which has been the way the BBC has been financed for many decades.”
The BBC’s work is funded principally by an annual television licence fee which is charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts and iPlayer catch-up.
The fee is set by the Government, agreed by Parliament, and used to fund the BBC’s radio, TV, and online services covering the nations and regions of the UK.
BBC director-general Tim Davie
The annual TV licence fee is to increase by £1.50, from £157.50 to £159, from April 1, 2021.
But the BBC has been under pressure to justify the continued existence of the licence fee in an age of increased competition for several years now.
It comes after current director-general Tim Davie has said the role of the corporation “is not to beat Netflix”.
He also confirmed over-75s will not be prosecuted over non-payment of the fee after the universal right to a free TV licence ended for that age group.
After the change, only those in receipt of pension credit do not have to pay.
The BBC is currently negotiating with the Government about the price of the licence fee from 2022 until its current charter ends in 2027, and Mr Davie conceded that the broadcaster “has no inalienable right to exist”.