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article imageBig names call on voters to protect BBC

By Andrew John     Apr 25, 2010 in Entertainment
Leading British actors and entertainers are calling on voters to protect the BBC when they go to the polls for the country’s general election of May 6.
Among them are Peter Kay, John Barrowman, Peter Capaldi and Romola Garai.
The Observer reports that “more than 40 of the best-known performers in the country, including comedians Catherine Tate, Meera Syal, Stephen Merchant and Terry Jones, and the acclaimed actors Sam West, Hugh Bonneville and Harriet Walter” have signed the public letter, which denounces plans to cut the licence fee and accuses opposition politicians of “a cavalier attitude towards the BBC’s independence.”
The story adds that the letter, which has also been signed by directors Sir Richard Eyre and Stephen Frears and by popular comic performers Eddie Izzard, Robert Webb, Harry Enfield, Charlie Higson, Stephen Mangan, Jo Brand and Sanjeev Bhaskar, highlights “an explicit threat to disband the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, by the Conservative shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and calls the corporation the ‘most important cultural organisation in Britain and an indispensable part of our society’.”
One of the signatories, the actor Roger Lloyd Pack, says he is unsettled by the lack of discussion about the future of the BBC in the election campaigns.
“It is very sinister that no one is mentioning it,” the paper quotes him as saying. “Everyone who goes to the rest of Europe and watches television knows what we have in the BBC, but it is often taken for granted. If we lose it, we will never get it back.”
Free of commercial breaks
He urges voters to consider what it would mean not to have a television channel that was free of commercial breaks (only commercial channels play ads in UK television; the BBC has always taken funding from the licence fee paid annually by owners of TV sets).
“Opposition parties talk vaguely about ‘keeping the barrier high’ and ‘maintaining levels’,” says Lloyd Pack, “and they talk about public choice too, but it is no choice at all if you have lots of channels of rubbish. We need the BBC as a standard-bearer.”
Of the main parties, the Conservatives have pledged to reveal how the BBC spends its income from the licence fee – worth £3.4 billion a year – by giving the watchdog National Audit Office access to its accounts for the first time.
The Observer says: “The party has promised, if it forms the next government, ‘to promote and protect a strong and independent BBC’, but earlier this year the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee [PAC], which is chaired by Tory MP Edward Leigh, complained that the corporation is “currently immune from being properly held to account for its spending of billions of pounds of public money.”
Supporters of the corporation fear this proposed close scrutiny by the National Audit Office would amount to direct government control of what is regarded as an independent, albeit publicly owned, broadcasting network.
“The PAC’s last report – Scrutiny of Value for Money at the BBC – also spoke of the licence fee as an unwelcome national tax, rather than as the established way of protecting the corporation’s independence,” says the paper.
The row has smouldered since comments made last summer by James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation. He publicly criticised the BBC for being “incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country.”
Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, added that “the scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling”.
The manifesto of the Labour Party, currently in power in the UK, says the current government is determined to “maintain the independence of the BBC . . . the most admired and trusted broadcaster in the world” and the Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently commented: “Any proposal to massively cut the fee, strip the BBC of its independence – or remove its ability to make certain programmes – is a huge mistake. A lot the BBC does is incredibly creative, and risky.”
The third-largest party in Parliament, the Liberal Democrats, say in their election manifesto that they plan to keep the BBC “strong, free from interference and securely funded.”
The campaigning website 38 Degrees (named after the angle at which an avalanche begins) has also been protesting against proposed cuts, and has contacted candidates of all parties asking for a pledge to protect the BBC.
The protest letter from entertainers is published in the Observer and urges voters to think about the consequences “for this cherished part of our national life,” adding: “It is right that there is a national debate about the future of the BBC. But attacking the BBC to serve the interests of its commercial rivals would be short-sighted and threatens to devalue not just the BBC itself, but our culture as a whole.”
Other big names
Other big names in the industry have warned against possible threats to the BBC. In recent weeks former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, current incumbent Steven Moffat and tenth Doctor David Tennant have all, separately, warned that the BBC will be under threat from the Tories if they win the election. Tennant and Sean Pertwee (the son of the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee) both appeared in Labour’s recent party-election broadcast, The Road Ahead.
A number of actors and other TV personnel assocaited with Doctor Who are among the signatories, including David Tennant (tenth Doctor); Peter Davison (fifth Doctor); Phil Collinson (producer); Roger Lloyd Pack, who is best known for his role as Trigger in the sitcom Only Fools and Horses; Meera Syal (Beautiful People, Goodness Gracious Me!); Peter Kay (Phoenix Nights); Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It); Sam West (Notting Hill, Howards End); Arabella Weir (The Fast Show, Posh Nosh); Richard Wilson (One Foot in the Grave); Catherine Tate (The Catherine Tate Show, Starter for Ten); and John Barrowman, who’s best known as Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood.
The full list of signatories at the time of writing is: Jo Brand, Peter Capaldi, Harry Enfield, Richard Eyre, Stephen Frears, Eddie Izzard, Catherine Tate, Liane Aukin, John Barrowman, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Hugh Bonneville, Jo Brand, Peter Capaldi, Jo Brand, Peter Capaldi, Phil Collinson, Peter Davison, Harry Enfield, Sir Richard Eyre, Simon Fanshawe, Stephen Frears, Nicci French, Romola Garai, Claire Goose, Michelle Hanson, Charlie Higson, Eddie Izzard, Ashley Jensen, Terry Jones, Kathy Lette, Roger Lloyd Pack, Peter Kay, Stephen Mangan, Tony Marchant, Alastair McGowan, Stephen Merchant, Roger Michell, David Mitchell, David Nicholls, Steve Pemberton, Piers Plowright, Jan Ravens, Tony Robinson, Nicola Shindler, Meera Syal, Catherine Tate, Ken Taylor, David Tennant, Rhys Thomas, Harriet Walter, Robert Webb, Arabella Weir, Sam West, Richard Wilson, Susan Woolridge, and Stewart Wood.
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