Culture secretary John Whittingdale is under a legal obligation to consider the views of Radio Times readers before deciding the fate of the BBC, a leading Labour MP has claimed.
Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham and a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said that the Government’s disregard of the views of Radio Times readers over the BBC consultation was “outrageous”.
The MP, who is also a lawyer, said, “The Government has a legal obligation to consider the evidence that is presented to it. And Radio Times readers have taken the trouble to present their evidence. And the Secretary of State is required to consider it before he makes his decision [on the future of the BBC].
“And if he doesn’t do that then any decision he makes is legally questionable. So he must and has an obligation. And as a Minister it’s his job to consider the evidence that’s presented to him,” he said.
“Radio Times readers have taken the trouble to make their views known and the Government should treat them with the respect they deserve by reading the responses. I think it’s outrageous that he hasn’t looked at the representations that have been made.”
Lucas’ comments follow demands by Radio Times for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] to reopen its BBC Charter Renewal Public Consultation after Whitehall officials failed to view the 6,085 online responses from Radio Times readers, which were sent following the launch of the public consultation in July 2015.
Radio Times published 16 questions which mirrored those in DCMS’s official consultation, inviting readers’ views on the BBC, including the programmes it makes and the future of the licence fee.
More than 9,000 Radio Times readers responded, around 3,000 by post and a further 6,085 digitally, which were then delivered to the DCMS on an encrypted memory stick for data protection purposes.
But the DCMS published its consultation report without ever requesting the password to open the file – and therefore cannot have taken the responses into consideration.
Added Lucas (pictured): “If you write into the consultation within the appropriate period, you don’t have to fill in their form or anything like that. Any representation that you make needs to be considered and that’s a legal obligation.
“And also it’s treating people with basic respect. We all have things to do and these people have chosen to spend time saying what they think about the BBC, which is the purpose of having a consultation and they should be listened to. You may not agree with what they say but you have an obligation as a Minister to consider it.”
Lucas added that he plans to take the issue up with Whittingdale in the coming weeks.
His remarks follow yesterday’s intervention by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby. The Any Questions? presenter yesterday attacked the Government for its failure to read the submissions.
He said he was “appalled” at the conduct of Department of Culture, Media and Sport, adding, “If it’s really true that the department has effectively ignored the views of a significant number of licence fee payers it is astonishing.
“I’m appalled that this might be the case. The BBC belongs to the public and if the public’s voice is to be ignored we will all be losers.”