BBC director general criticises political influences

The BBC’s director general Mark Thomson has criticised culture secretary Ben Bradshaw’s attack on the role of the BBC Trust at the RTS Cambridge Convention.

Speaking in response to Bradshaw’s comments that one body cannot be both governing body and regulator, Thomson pointed out the government’s role in creating the Trust. “Ben should ask this question of those colleagues of his in the present Cabinet who invented the BBC Trust, approved it and enshrined it in a Charter which still has well over seven more years to run,” he said. “They believed – as I believe – that the present settlement, with most formal regulation discharged by Ofcom and other regulatory authorities, but with the Trust safeguarding the interests of the public, the proper use of the licence fee and the editorial and political independence of the BBC is a foundation on which real public confidence can be built.” Thomson said the government should not make threats of abolishing independent governing bodies for taking different views to the government.

The real issues facing broadcasting concern the “range and quality” of content available to people, Thomson said. “The millions of people who will switch on Strictly or X Factor this Saturday don’t terribly care about the finer points of governance, let alone different flavours of NAO access to the BBC,” he said.

Thomson also criticised Lord Carter’s proposals for top-slicing the licence fee, saying that such a move would be “bad for independence and for accountability”. Taxing spectrum could be a viable alternative, he said, but added that the government needs to think more creatively about the range of local and regional activities it wants to support. “Is a replication of the current ITV provision – close to a mirror-image of the BBC service – really what this country needs in a post-switchover world?” Thomson said.