Armando Iannucci leads criticism of secrecy over BBC’s future

The Thick of It creator seeks meeting with culture secretary to discuss ‘drip feed of sinister headlines’

Armando Iannucci, the creator of The Thick of It, has called on the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, to agree to a meeting with him and others from a new group of influential media figures set up amid concerns about future government plans for the BBC.

He accused the government of undermining confidence in Britain’s creative industries in foreign markets with “dripfed” stories suggesting plans for the privatisation of public broadcasters.

Speaking at the launch on Thursday of the British Broadcasting Challenge, set up by academics, writers and producers, Iannucci criticised the absence of any programme-makers on a new panel established to advise on the future of public service broadcasting.

The launch coincided with the publication of an open letter to Dowden signed by more than 120 people, including the writers Hilary Mantel and Salman Rushdie, voicing alarm about the BBC’s future.

Meanwhile, it emerged that the government has refused a freedom of information request from the cross-bench peer Paul Myners asking for minutes of the public service broadcasting advisory panel’s proceedings.

The open letter said: “We are concerned that the government is being advised by a panel not set up under the Cabinet Office guidelines, meeting in secret with no public record of its agenda, discussions or recommendations.”

Iannucci said: “If we have cabinet ministers going out in trade delegations to sell weapons contracts throughout the world, why aren’t they going out across the world to say how great our quality British television is? Why instead are we being dripfed these sinister headlines about ‘we might want to shut this down, we might want to privatise that’?”

He noted that the creative industries in the UK contributed more to the economy than the car industry and the oil industry combined. But a “constant questioning and uncertainty” meant people did not know whether or not to invest in British television, he said, “because there’s this question mark over what it’s going to be in two or three years’ time.”

Pat Younge, a former BBC chief creative officer who is chairing the British Broadcasting Challenge, said he and others were concerned that the government’s secretive approach could act as a cover for advancing further cuts to BBC funding, privatising Channel 4 “and opening the door to American-style partisan TV that will undermine trust in broadcasting and start a race to the bottom for standards”.

He added: “The failed European Super League serves as an example of what can happen when a small group of clever people meet in secret and make big decisions that affect us all. [Public service broadcasting] is a public good that belongs to all of us, and we should all be involved in debates over its future. ”

The government’s advisory panel was appointed in November to provide independent expertise and advice as part of a strategic review of public service broadcasting.

Its members have a wealth of expertise in broadcasting and related sectors and come from a range of backgrounds, according to the website of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

They include Gabrielle Bertin, a senior adviser at BT and former press secretary to David Cameron; Michael Grade, the former Channel 4 chief executive; and the Tory MP Andrew Griffith, a former chief operating officer of Sky.

A DCMS spokesperson said: “The expert PSB panel is providing independent advice as the government considers how to deliver a successful and sustainable future for UK public service broadcasting. Its remit, membership and terms of reference are publicly available.”


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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