Armando Iannucci calls on BBC to fight back against critics

Thick Of It creator said British television suffered from 'consistent cack-handed interference by politicians goaded by the press'

The Thick Of It creator Armando Iannucci has called on the BBC to fight back against its critics in parliament and the press.

Iannucci, whose acclaimed Westminster satire returned to BBC2 last Saturday night, said British television felt "disarmed and confused" because of "consistent cack-handed interference by politicians goaded by the press".

He said "supine" television executives had failed to fight back – not just at the BBC but across broadcasting – and said "now is the time to fight back".

Delivering the annual Bafta Lecture in London's Piccadilly, entitled "Fight, fight, fight", Iannucci railed against politicians and press barons trying to influence what we see on the small screen.

"Governments whether right or left have become commissioners in chief, nudging and cajoling networks into preferred business models without the slightest sensitivity or awareness of what the public wants or the TV industry is capable of," said Iannucci.

He said politicians saw television as something to be "badgered or bullied" and the BBC as an easy target.

But he said the Leveson inquiry into press ethics had highlighted public misgivings about the way the press and politicians operated and said viewers would "never forgive anyone who meddles with British television for their own advantage".

With George Entwistle, the new director general of the BBC due to take up his post on Monday next week, Iannucci said there "could not be a better time to reset the board".

He said he wanted all UK broadcasters but especially the BBC to be more gung-ho about promoting themselves overseas.

"I want to encourage us to be more aggressive in promoting what makes British TV so good. Be ambitious, arrogant even, in how we sell it to the world.

"The BBC brand is up there with Apple and Google, I want it to go abroad and prostitute itself to blue buggery in how it sells and makes money from its content."

He added: "It goes back to the old amateur spirit of the Olympics, that it's wrong to make money. There is still an element of the BBC that feels it is somehow wrong, or it will be open to criticism if it makes more money."

In a question and answer session after his lecture, Iannucci said the BBC had to stop being scared of negative headlines in the Daily Mail.

"The great unspoken support of the BBC is the viewing public and the BBC seems to forget that but is continually aware of bad headlines in the Daily Mail. It's a strange dynamic. What's wrong with having criticism in the press?"

Iannucci, who once said the BBC should tell James Murdoch to "fuck off", said the Murdochs were "just not as frightening anymore" in the wake of the Leveson inquiry into press ethics and the phone-hacking scandal.

He criticised the BBC's licence fee settlement two years ago which saw the level of the fee frozen but the corporation take on extra funding responsibilities including the BBC World Service.

"That was a back of the envelope last minute decision which had nothing to do with public spending. It was a loaded gun," he said.

Iannucci said David Cameron's description of the six-year funding freeze as "delicious" showed that the Conservatives still had a BBC agenda. He said the traditional Conservative party still saw the corporation as a radical hotbed which was "determined to bring anarchy to the UK when in fact it put on the Olympics brilliantly".

But Iannucci warned that the changing way in which we watch television meant it was going to be very difficult to justify the licence fee in 10 years' time.

He said British television was once the "most adored, copied and influential in the world" but it had lost that crown over the last five or 10 years to the US and shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad.

He used his lecture to call on commissioning executives to give creatives more freedom, and for Sky, which has pledged to double the amount it invests in UK comedy and drama, to invest some of that money in new talent.

He said the Olympics opening ceremony was an example of what can happen when creatives are given the freedom to express themselves. When decisions were taken by committee, he said, you end up with the Millennium Dome.

Iannucci admitted the title of his lecture was "rather aggressive" and joked he had originally thought of calling it "make good programmes".

"Never underestimate the intelligence of the audience, make good programmes and they will come," he added.


John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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