Peter Kosminsky has launched a passionate defence of the BBC after a meeting with John Whittingdale yesterday morning.
The Wolf Hall director said his concern about the future of the Corporation had prompted him to visit the culture secretary, but he “came away more worried than I was when I went in” thanks to the “deeply ideological response about the BBC” coming from the government.
Speaking at the Radio Times Festival, Kosminsky revealed that he and the Conservative politician “had a bit of a row” when they met on Thursday.
“He said it’s a tax. I said it’s not a tax. I think there’s an ideological objection to the organisation. I think if I’m really honest – I don’t see why I shouldn’t be, it is a free country even if he wants to try and tell the BBC when their news programme should be on – I think it’s a bit of payback for the way the BBC covered the General Election and the row about the political debates. That’s just a personal opinion but this doesn’t feel right – it feels like someone’s trying to pay back in some way.”
Kosminsky’s comments come in the wake of Whittingdale’s green paper which was published in July, calling for a fundamental review of the size of the BBC, what it does and the way it is funded and casting doubt on whether the Corporation should continue to strive to be “all things to all people”. It will be subject to public consultation before an expected bill or white paper is put before Parliament, probably next year.
Kosminksy – who has just returned from the Emmys where Wolf Hall was nominated for multiple awards – noted that, “when I talk to my American colleagues about the fact the BBC is facing an existential crisis, they can’t believe it. From the perspective of overseas, why would you take apart something that is a jewel in your crown? And yet here it’s somehow lumped in with the argument about cutting the deficit and yet this is counterintuitive. The licence fee isn’t public spending, it doesn’t contribute to the deficit.”
The director added that PBS – the network that aired Wolf Hall in the States to just 2 million viewers – is what the BBC is destined to become. “It’s a natural extension of what’s being proposed if the BBC stops doing popular programmes – programmes that people want to watch.
“You’ll end up with PBS which is a completely ignored, marginalised channel that’s watched by a very, very high brow audience and nobody else and it would break my heart that for quite narrow political reasons we would take something as wonderful as the BBC and reinvent it and dismantle it – it’s akin to cultural vandalism, actually, and I can’t believe that the British public will sit around and allow it to happen.
“It’s our BBC – it’s not their BBC. It belongs to us – it doesn’t belong to the politicians who, frankly, don’t watch a lot of television. How dare they try to destroy our BBC.”
He added that his criticism was not reserved for the Conservative Party. “All politicians have it in for the BBC… But I think Tony Hall is trying to put matters right and we should be supporting him, not supporting these extraordinary and draconian proposals.”
Kosminsky’s comments prompted a round of applause from the festival audience who, during a Q&A, asked what the director thought members of the public could do to take a stand against the Government’s plans.
He replied: “In the end we are a democracy and politicians are almost uniquely susceptible to pressure from the electorate. I am not without criticism of the BBC. I’m sure everyone in this room has things they’d like to change – do I want to see it eviscerated? No, I do not. And I would, like all of us I imagine, have an expectation that it will improve and can be improved. I don’t see how it can be improved if it’s constantly cheese-sliced in terms of it’s budget.”
The director concluded by quoting GK Chesterton, telling the audience: “‘We are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.’ It’s time to speak, guys. It’s time to stand up and say stop it.”