THE FEROCITY of the attacks on the BBC was underscored last Saturday when Radio 4's flagship news programme, Today, handed its weekly essay slot to Charles Moore, editor of the Daily Telegraph. You had to suspend disbelief as Moore told his listeners the BBC was left of centre, anti big business and-wait for it-passionately opposed to the war in Iraq.
How Tony Blair, John Reid, Geoff Hoon and all the other government baiters of the BBC must have cheered as their chum on the Torygraph announced his paper had set up 'Beebwatch'. This will report daily on the left wing bias and poison dripping from the unlikely mouths of John Humphrys, Andrew Marr and Jeremy Paxman. It would be tempting to stand back and adopt a 'plague on both their houses' attitude to the war between the BBC and the government.
Should the BBC deserve the support of the left? We know, contrary to Charles Moore's scattergun attack, that the corporation is deeply conservative, biased against strikers, plays down or ignores left wing demonstrations, and was the most grovelling supporter of the war in Iraq. But-and it is an important but-the BBC is a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee. Unlike other broadcasters, its income does not come from advertising or sponsorship.
Under director general Greg Dyke, the BBC has joined the ratings war and dumbed down BBC1's schedules with appalling programmes like The Weakest Link, Fame Academy, and painfully unfunny 'comedies' like The Vicar of Dibley. But there is also the BBC of the Michael Woods series on Shakespeare, and the brilliant scope of Radio 4 that ranges from the thoughtful analysis of From Our Own Correspondent to Michael Rosen's programmes on language, poetry and children's literature.
We would lose far more than Anne Robinson, the trivia of the Six O'Clock News and endless reruns of Only Fools and Horses if the BBC ceased to be a public service, lost its licence fee and had to please the vulgar demands of advertisers. The corporation's charter will be renewed in the next few years, and that charter is in the hands of a government led by Tony Blair. Blair admires many rich and powerful businessmen but none more so than Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi.
Murdoch owns the Sun and News of the World, right wing papers Blair is keen to court in order to win votes for New Labour, and controls the ever expanding Sky television network. Murdoch detests the BBC because he hates the concept of public service broadcasting. He wants all broadcasting to be 'market driven', which means pandering to advertisers and sponsors. Sky offers a 24-hour diet of sport and bought-in American films and soaps. In the future this is what the BBC will also offer us if it is delicensed and left to the tender mercies of the marketplace.
Berlusconi has gone several steps further than Murdoch. He is Italian prime minister, controls most commercial TV in Italy, and has put his cronies in charge of RAI, the equivalent of the BBC. Berlusconi, remember, is Tony Blair's 'best friend in Europe'. We may have to swallow hard, but we must defend the independence of the BBC and argue in support of the corporation continuing to be funded by the licence fee.
We should go further-a public service broadcaster should be publicly controlled not by politicians and appointed governors but by elected representatives of viewers and listeners. The BBC should trust the people. Then we, the people, may start to have more trust in the BBC.