PODCAST | The BBC and a Perfect Political Storm: why the new conservative government is unprecedented threat to the BBC’s survival

Just 2 months after its surprise election victory, Britain’s Conservative government produced its proposals (a “Green Paper”) for a new BBC Charter, due to expire at the end of next year. It represents probably the greatest threat since its birth in 1922 to the BBC’s role at the heart of Britain’s cultural and democratic life.

This paper will examine the new government’s proposals and the four political factors which have aligned to make the BBC particularly vulnerable over the next 18 months: the very short period between election and Charter renewal; an reinvigorated Conservative Party with an opposition in disarray; a rabidly hostile press, fuelled by ideological opposition and commercial self-interest; and a new Culture secretary from the right of the party long associated with a “market-gap”, smaller BBC. It will compare the political environment today with the previous Charter renewal process under a Labour government ten years ago. And it will examine the three key levers of influence – funding, governance and remit – through which the government could emasculate the BBC.

It will also address the role of civil society groups, including academics and citizen bodies, their locus of power and influence, and their prospects for resisting the worst of these proposals. It will briefly make a comparison with the systematic erosion of PSBs in other countries, concluding that while there might be a consistent pattern throughout developed nations, the BBC’s size and popularity within the UK has given it a resilience that few other PSBs can match. That historic resilience is likely to be tested to its limit.


Steven Barnett is professor of communications at the University of Westminster.