U.K. Government Seeks to Allay Fears Ahead of Release of BBC Proposals

U.K. TV industry folk were on tenterhooks Wednesday as they awaited Thursday’s release of the government’s white paper on the future of the country’s main public-owned broadcaster, the BBC. The government minister in charge of broadcasting, John Whittingdale, sought to allay fears Wednesday.

Speculation has been rife in the weeks leading up to publication of the government proposals, and greatest fear was the rumor that the government would attempt to encroach on the broadcaster’s independence. Whittingdale was reported to be about to rule that the majority of the BBC’s governing board would be appointed directly by the government.

Politicians from the opposition parties and the ruling Conservative Party warned against such a move. Ben Bradshaw, who represents the Labour Party, said Wednesday Whittingdale would have “the fight of his life on his hands if there is any suggestion whatsoever of anything that intrudes on the BBC’s independence.”

Speaking in Parliament, Whittingdale insisted he was “committed to the editorial independence of the BBC.” He added: “I have always made clear the editorial independence of the BBC is incredibly important and we will do nothing to undermine that.”

Another fear voiced in recent weeks was that the BBC would be prevented from scheduling its most popular shows in primetime, such as “Strictly Come Dancing,” against the top shows on the commercial channels, such as ITV’s “The X Factor.” Whittingdale rejected that notion.

Another source of anxiety was the idea that the BBC’s main source of revenue, the compulsory license fee, would be “top sliced,” meaning the BBC would be forced to share some of it with commercial rivals. Again Whittingdale rejected the doomsayers’ predictions. “The agreement we reached with the BBC stands and nothing in the white paper will change that,” he said.

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