It makes us laugh, cry and bake: so hands off the award-winning BBC
Lords Alli (left) and Fowler - © nuj
Actors Richard Wilson and Ross Kemp with Lord Lester and BBC presenter Martine Croxall - © nuj
Stephen Spence with FEU's BBC alternative white paper - © nuj
9 May 2016
"It won 14 Baftas. So remind me, what's the problem?" asked Stephen Spence, assistant general secretary of Equity, representing the Love it or Lose campaign group of entertainment and media unions.
As the government is poised to publish its long-awaited White Paper on the future of the BBC, campaign groups, actors, representatives of the creative industries and politicians, including Maria Eagle culture shadow secretary, joined an event held by three peers who are fighting to defend the broadcaster's independence, financial security and mission to education, inform and entertain.
Stephen Spence brandished the alternative White paper of the Federation of Entertainment Unions, and referred to the huge success of the BBC, which had swept up across the board at the industry awards ceremony, with BBC Two's Wolf Hall winning the best drama series and Mark Rylance best actor for his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell.
Peter Kosminsky, director of Wolf Hall, used his acceptance speech to defend the BBC and Mark Rylance said: “Woe to any government or corporation that tries to get between the British people and their love of a good joke, a true story, a good song, a fact or fiction, good sports commentating, newscasters who can hold themselves together as they tell stories about terrible tragedies in Paris, people who can help you bake cakes. We’re a nation of storytellers, were admired around the world for it."
Support for the BBC also came from Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye and Have I Got News For You host, Craig Revel Horwood, Strictly Come Dancing judge and actor James Nesbitt.
The three peers, Lord Alli, Labour, Lord Lester, Liberal Democrat, and Lord Fowler, Conservative, were launching a private members' bill which they said would enshrine the independence of the BBC in law, ensure that it has sufficient funds to perform its functions as a public service broadcaster and require the corporation's charter to be approved by both houses of Parliament.
Lord Fowler said the BBC had been under threat from different governments and he was concerned with reports that the new body to oversee the corporation would be full of government appointees. He said the bill would provide a check on the government's power.
Lord Lester said: "The BBC must be free to infuriate governments." He said the level of cuts made to the BBC's budget in recent years was "unconstitutional" and he criticised the government for its many raids on the license fee.
Lord Alli said that John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary, had made it clear he was ideologically opposed to the BBC and criticised him for saying that shows such as Strictly Come Dancing must not be shown at peak times to compete with commercial broadcasters. He said: "I love the fact the BBC brings us together to laugh and cry and, in my case, bake.”
The meeting heard from David Babbs, of the campaign group 38 degrees, who said that the 250,000 personal contributions to the consultation on the BBC's future made evident the high level of support the public has for the BBC and Horace Trubridge, assistant general secretary of the Musicians' Union, who said BBC radio was vital to the UK's music business.
Actor Richard Wilson said he would be prepared to march in the streets to defend the BBC.