A piece by Rosamund Urwin, one of many resident feminist “journalists” at The Times – the paper is never critical of feminism or feminists – in today’s Sunday Times. Back in March 2013, she attacked the newly-launched J4MB in a piece in the Evening Standard. My blog piece on the matter, published at the time, is here. Ms Urwin’s piece in today’s paper:
Paul Dacre and Charles Moore are no fans of the BBC. Hiring them could be kill or cure.
(J4MB: Either outcome would be fine with us, preferably the first.]
The metaphors have been apocalyptic. Appointing Charles Moore to be the next chairman of the BBC was, one insider said, “the nuclear option”; another dubbed it “the corporation’s Stalingrad”, while Conservative MP called it “incendiary”.
Throw in the prospect of Paul Dacre as chairman of the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, they argued, and an “all-out war” was being waged on the broadcaster by the government, “the most concerted attack it has ever faced”.
Allies of both men, however, insisted that the appointments could prove inspired — and help save the corporation from extinction as it grapples with the streaming giants Amazon and Netflix.
Moore, a former Spectator and Telegraph editor, and Dacre, who edited the Daily Mail, are understood to be the government’s picks for the roles, which are political appointments, although technically the monarch approves the BBC role.
Moore, 63, has a deep antipathy for the BBC and was taken to court in 2010 for not paying the licence fee.
Dacre, 71, has used his rare speeches to attack the corporation, accusing its staff of believing “money grows on trees” and failing to represent public opinion.
When Moore’s name was mentioned as a possible successor to Sir David Clementi, BBC figures thought that it might be a political ruse: dangle the most unpalatable option to sweeten up staff to accept someone less objectionable.
George Osborne, the chancellor turned newspaper editor, and the former culture secretary Baroness Morgan had been mooted.
Others in the corporation had thought the government would pick a tech boss, given the threat posed by the subscription services based in America.
Why Moore? The Margaret Thatcher biographer is a Brexiteer, close to Boris Johnson, discreet and one of the BBC’s greatest critics.
“Boris trusts Charles in a way he doesn’t George,” said a Tory source. “Nicky [Morgan] was a safe pair of hands, but she wouldn’t challenge the BBC status quo.”
Sarah Sands, the former editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, called the appointment of Moore “curiously rather Reithian” because he stood for “integrity and decency” like Lord Reith, the BBC’s founding father.
“This is an act of mischief: you have the BBC’s nemesis coming in as chairman, but he’ll want to restore the BBC to Reithian values that might seem stuffy to present staff.”
Others were critical. “This will shatter morale. People will leave, thinking: I won’t stay working here under Thatcher’s vicar on earth,” said a former employee of Moore’s.
“One of his main themes is hating the BBC. Charles is sinuous and charming. His handling of all this will appear terrifyingly reasonable. But he will gut the BBC, perhaps getting his revenge for its treatment of Thatcher.”
Julian Knight, Tory chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee, said: “ We don’t have a right of veto, but we can raise concerns and there are bound to be questions around transparency.”
The DCMS department has not yet advertised for a successor to Clementi, who leaves in February, but the government must run a “fair and open” competition, according to the BBC charter. Complaints can be raised with the commissioner for public appointments, Peter Riddell. The chairman is paid £100,000 and works about three days a week — a pay cut from Moore’s salary as a Telegraph columnist.
Dacre’s appointment would be equally controversial. Ofcom’s powers over the BBC include regulation and handling complaints, including over impartiality. It also oversees much of the online content but cannot order the BBC to close a service. Dacre is known to be highly critical of the BBC’s website, which is seen as chasing online traffic while taking page views from commercial brands.
Some who know Dacre well insisted that his views on the BBC had been misrepresented. Although he passionately believes that the corporation needs reform, he is equally exercised by the monopolistic power of the tech giants, chiefly Facebook and Google, they said. He would “die in a ditch” for the BBC, not kill it off, they added.
Dacre is critical of the tech giants for their “anti-competitive” methods of mopping up online advertising and use of newspaper stories without payment.
His allies say he is a champion of transparency. He reviewed the “30-year rule” under Gordon Brown, reducing the time that state secrets can be kept to 20 years.
Ofcom is set to publish a consultation on the future of public sector broadcasting this year. It will then invite views and evidence before sending the recommendations to the DCMS department in 2021.
A media source said Dacre at Ofcom would be “symbolic, like a jab in the ribs” to the BBC, while Moore as its chairman would be “a stab to its heart”.
Furious over a prank by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand on Radio 2 in 2008, Moore had stopped paying the licence fee and was prosecuted.
When Sands announced that she was leaving the BBC this year, it is rumoured that Moore encouraged her to raise money to create a new “home service”, combining Radio 3 and Radio 4.
The appointment may be unsettling for Tim Davie, who started as director-general this month. The DG is traditionally from editorial, while the chairman is usually a businessman. But Davie was the boss of the BBC’s commercial arm and would be overseen by a journalist.
Hostility to the licence fee is growing and having a chairman who opposes the charge could be a game-changer.
Johnson is said to have been put off supporting a subscription model after culture minister John Whittingdale pointed out that it would take the BBC channels off Freeview. One option, which Davie has reportedly drawn up plans for, is a two-tier licence fee, with a premium and a standard package.
Talks will begin early next year between the BBC and the government on the licence fee settlement from 2022 to 2027. “That will set the stage for the BBC in scale and scope,” said Claire Enders, a media analyst. “They will try to redraw the map, even though there’s a charter protecting it [until 2027].”
Dacre had predicted in 2018 that “a right-of-centre TV network will one day take root in this country”. Andrew Neil, himself once a wildcard for the BBC role, will leave the corporation in November to launch GB News, a right-leaning news channel.
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