The BBC’s aggressive response to government plans to review the corporation’s charter, due to expire soon, has been widely criticized. The BBC has repeatedly denied it orchestrated a star-studded warning letter sent to the Prime Minister, despite several signatories saying otherwise.
The opinion at the top of the corporation is that the BBC has historically taken criticism “lying down,” an insider told The Times yesterday, saying executives had decided fight back with a new, aggressive attitude.
The green paper outlines the scope for the once in a decade review of the BBC charter, put together the culture secretary John Whittingdale. Before it was even published, a letter signed by 29 celebrities including JK Rowling, Claudia Winkleman, Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig was sent to David Cameron instructing him not to “diminish” the BBC.
The BBC press office denied it had “anything to do” with the letter, however Annie Nightingale said the BBC head of TV “put it together” and Michael Palin admitted live on BBC television that, “BBC boss Danny Cohen asked me to sign letter supporting BBC,” by phoning him directly.
Cohen is the BBC boss who has made headlines before because of his repeat attacks on Jeremy Clarkson and £327,000-a-year salary. Also linked to the letter is the BBC’s head of strategy and former New Labour man, James Purnell, who was made Culture Secretary under Gordon Brown.
“BBC boss Danny Cohen asked me to sign letter supporting BBC” says Michael Palin https://t.co/7cIJZLqZRK
— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) July 16, 2015
Sir David Attenborough latest to admit to @BBCr4today that BBC asked him to sign celebrities letter; “The BBC has to defend itself”.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) July 17, 2015
Steve Hewlett, presenter of The Media Showon BBC Radio 4, said: “I think the BBC’s response is remarkable. These are all perfectly predictable and entirely legitimate questions about the size and scope and purpose of the BBC, which they must have expected to be asked.
“To treat these questions as if they are already answers — it’s not the way the BBC would usually approach a constitutional, public process . . . Trying to win every point by portraying the whole thing as an attack on the BBC just won’t work.”
Damian Collins, who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said it was wrong for supposedly impartial BBC executives to lobby government with celebrities as they have, and that Cohen’s high salary job should be “put out to tender.”
“Clearly it seems as if the BBC broke [its editorial policy]… This is a blatant attempt by BBC grandees to try to lobby ministers by using TV talent. They made that pompous statement that Britain would be diminished. Do we really think Britain would be diminished if Danny Cohen didn’t get his megabucks salary?” he told The Daily Mail.