John Whittingdale criticises ‘left-wing luvvies’ in BBC row

UK culture secretary’s proposal would give government more influence over broadcaster

UK Secretary of State for Culture John Whittingdale: said the government’s proposals on the how the BBC should be governed had been broadly welcomed. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

UK Secretary of State for Culture John Whittingdale: said the government’s proposals on the how the BBC should be governed had been broadly welcomed. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

 

Britain’s culture secretary has dismissed critics of his plans for the BBC as “left-wing luvvies” who were informed by “ill-founded, hysterical speculation”.

John Whittingdale was addressing MPs after the publication of a White Paper on the BBC’s future, which proposes giving the government more influence over the corporation’s governance.

The BBC is to be governed by a single board, with the government choosing the chairman, the vice-chair and four representatives from the nations and regions.

The BBC will be allowed to appoint as many people to the board as it wishes, guaranteeing it a majority.

Labour’s shadow culture secretary, Maria Eagle, said she was concerned that the government would seek to influence the BBC’s editorial decision-making, and that the broadcaster would come under undue political interference as a result.

By the time the White Paper was published, it was clear that many of the most controversial proposals floated in recent days had been dropped under pressure from prime minister David Cameron.

“The Tories have been forced to backtrack on many of their most extreme proposals for the BBC because they were out of step with the overwhelming majority of the public,” Ms Eagle said.

Mr Whittingdale said the government’s proposals had been broadly welcomed, accusing Ms Eagle of speaking off an outdated script.

Rehearsed lines

In the most important news for the corporation, the license fee will be guaranteed for at least 11 years and will increase in line with inflation after 2017.

The BBC will have to publish how much it pays any stars who earn more than £450,000 (€570,200), much higher than the £150,000 Mr Whittingdale is believed to have favoured.

A commitment to diversity will be written into BBC’s new charter, requiring the broadcaster to give greater focus to under-served audiences, including black, Asian and minority ethnic viewers.

While the House of Commons was debating the BBC, the Vote Leave campaign was training its guns on ITV, accusing the network of bias in its plans for debates ahead of next month’s referendum.

ITV has invited Mr Cameron and Ukip leader Nigel Farage to face off in its first referendum event, which will involve being interviewed separately in front of a live audience.

Legal action

Mr Farage

“ITV has accepted the prime minister’s demands without even discussing it with the official campaign and has allowed the prime minister to dictate his own opponent,” Vote Leave said in a statement. “Since the campaign began, ITV has also given twice as much airtime to the In campaign than to the Leave campaign.”

Earlier, Vote Leave falsely accused ITV political editor Robert Peston of having campaigned for Britain to join the euro. And a spokesman for Mr Farage accused Vote Leave of trying to exclude Ukip from the referendum campaign.

“This referendum is bigger than the Conservative party and bigger than party politics,” he said. “It is about the very future of our country, and this ITV debate will reflect that.

“All on the Leave side must put their egos to one side and support Nigel as he prepares to take on the prime minister in what will undoubtedly be the defining moment of the referendum campaign.