Source: Financial Times

The BBC is facing a “severe threat” from Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, according to a group of high-profile authors, academics and film producers who claim that ministers are reviewing the future of the UK’s national broadcaster in secret.

More than 120 public figures, including Sandman-creator Neil Gaiman, Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel and Salman Rushdie, published an open letter on Thursday warning that advice from the government’s public service broadcasting advisory panel could lead to funding cuts for the BBC and weakened impartiality rules. 

Their call followed months of debate over the future of the corporation and came as the Tory government has embarked on a culture war, attempting to reset the balance of opinion at the top of Britain’s cultural and media institutions, prompting museum directors to withdraw from their posts in protest.null

Some in the media industry have been alarmed by Johnson’s plans to install Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor, as head of the UK’s media regulator Ofcom.

The signatories to the letter, who also included actor Steve Coogan and film-maker Norma Percy, said the government’s public service broadcasting advisory panel has been meeting “in secret with no public record of its agenda, discussions or recommendations”. 

A freedom of information request by the former City minister Lord Paul Myners to release the agenda, minutes and names of those who had given evidence to the panel was rejected in April. 

Pat Younge, former creative officer at the BBC and chair of campaign group the British Broadcasting Challenge, said the organisation feared the government’s approach was “opening the door to American-style partisan TV that will undermine trust in broadcasting and start a race to the bottom for standards”.

Younge compared the secrecy around the panel’s conversations to the failed plans for a European football Super League, as “what can happen when a small group of clever people meet in secret and make big decisions that affect us all”.null

The letter, which was also signed by former Financial Times editors Lionel Barber and Sir Richard Lambert, and the columnist and historian Simon Schama, argued that the UK’s public service broadcasters should be recognised for their soft-power appeal, which was particularly important in a “post-Brexit” world order. 

Countries such as Russia and China have in recent years extended the reach of their international broadcasters. China’s CGTN has, despite losing its Ofcom licence, recently regained the right to broadcast in the UK.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.