Surplus to requirements 

17 September 2009

Ben Bradshaw and Sir Michael Lyons clash over BBC licence fee

It’s no wonder that the BBC Trust has turned into little more than a ‘cheerleader’ for the BBC when faced with a corporation that is usually either too timid to make controversial decisions (except maybe for the Gaza appeal controversy which was politically motivated in itself), or has clamped down so hard on individuality that there’s little to complain about anymore.

All of this has essentially left the Trust rubber-stamping most of what the BBC puts forward, except where there’s a personal difference of opinion or where the boundaries between government and BBC policy have become blurred.

Therefore the BBC Trust is now looking very much as if it is surplus to requirements, which many people could have predicted from the start because the Trust was only set up through political expediency and not because the BBC had suddenly decided to malfunction after 75 years (management woes excepted).

Throw in the Conservatives’ pledge to cut out the New Labour quangos and the Trust is suddenly appearing to be more than a little unloved from all concerned, hence it’s no surprise that the Trust is now faced with a major battle for survival after less than five years of existence.

And talking of BBC management, its slow response has often left Michael Lyons and the BBC Trust acting defensively long before the usually belated response from Mark Thompson and friends, hence it does superficially appear to be the case that the Trust and the corporation are a unitary body in terms of defending themselves.

Problem is, you have the BBC Trust defending its own interests whilst being increasingly isolated from government support and at the same time approximately singing from the same hymn sheet as the BBC, therefore in turn making it appear that attacking the Trust is actually also attacking the BBC directly. (Which was presumably the intention anyway.)

It’s also obvious that James Murdoch’s recent right-wing speech was clearly designed to set the media policy agenda with an election on the horizon (as responded to by Ben Bradshaw as culture secretary), but it does make for something that has more than a hint of inconsistency about it (or desperation: take your pick), all things considered.

So we have ended up with a government media policy that seemingly changes depending on which way the wind blows coupled with a lack of leadership at the top of the BBC. No wonder everyone appears to be confused.

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