Save the BBC from Boris Johnson or we’ll get UK Fox News – Ian Murray

As Boris Johnson threatens to scrap the BBC licence fee, we must fight to save our public-sector broadcaster, which is the envy of the world, says Ian Murray MP.

BBC stalwart David Attenborough helped put plastic pollution at the top of the agenda (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)
BBC stalwart David Attenborough helped put plastic pollution at the top of the agenda (Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

A Saturday evening ritual when I was growing up was always sitting down to watch Doctor Who, a big Saturday night show like The Generation Game and then, after Dynasty and Wogan for my mum, we would be glued to Match of the Day after the News.

The very fabric of our society is underpinned by organisations such as the BBC. It provides entertainment and education. It provides company for older people and the housebound. It is a very strong arm of social justice in this country. It’s the driver of our creative production ecosystem. It is something we should cherish, and we lose it at our peril. Boris Johnson wants to replace the BBC licence fee with a Netflix-style subscription that, in my view, would be an unpardonable folly that will have wide-ranging consequences for our country.

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The Government proposals would force the BBC to sell most of its flagship radio stations from Radio 2 to Radio 6 Music and cut down its world-leading website content.

In the era of fake news and conspiracy theory blogs, the BBC is respected around the world for its impartiality. It is the broadcasting envy of the world. Just think about how bad other broadcasters are in other countries.

Attacked from all sides

Taking away people’s access to its coverage would be to the detriment of our society. The fact that extremes in every political movement think the BBC is biased against them suggests that it is actually doing things right. The Tories, who are boycotting BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, think it is too liberal. Some in my own party think the BBC is part of the Conservative propaganda machine. The nationalists in Scotland blame it for their failure to convince people to break up the UK.

In the 2014 independence referendum, nationalist supporters even took to the streets to protest outside the BBC headquarters in Glasgow against its journalists, inflicting major damage on the Yes campaign by turning off most ordinary voters.

All governments bemoan the BBC as it holds them to account. It is the public window into the scrutiny of government. That is what it should do. I know what side I am on. Would you want a UK Fox News or the BBC? Would you want Rupert Murdoch or the BBC? Would you want a respected and regulated public-sector broadcaster or no public-sector broadcaster at all? I know what I choose.

Tooth-and-nail

We must fight tooth and nail to save the BBC and defend its impartiality. It makes us all laugh, cry, get angry and educated all in one – whether it’s Strictly, The Archers or Panorama. It also drives social change. Would we have that issue of plastics in our oceans at the top of the political agenda without the world-leading Attenborough Blue Planet documentaries? I doubt it. Just imagine what our country would look like now if we had never had the BBC for the last 100 years? And just imagine what our country would look like if it disappeared.

More and more viewers, particularly the under-25s, are moving on to subscription channels and consuming their entertainment in different ways but the linear television of the BBC is still incredibly popular and important. It is an institution, like most large organisations, that needs to reform and modernise but let’s not risk its very existence. It is who we are and the kind of country we want to be. I, for one, will defend it and enhance it. I’ve started so I’ll finish – I love the BBC.

Ian Murray is Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South