The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has finally agreed to read and record responses from over 9,000 Radio Times readers’ to the public consultation on the future of the BBC.
The Government has pledged to take the responses “fully into account” following the outcry over its failure to read the feedback while claiming that that every response had been considered.
In his letter in this week’s issue, Radio Times Editor Ben Preston hailed the victory.
He wrote: “Six weeks ago Radio Times exposed a gaping hole in the way the Culture Secretary is shaping the future of British broadcasting. We disclosed how John Whittingdale had thanked 9,000 Radio Times readers for their contribution to his official consultation on the future of the BBC and declared ‘every response has been read’ – but then failed to make good his promise. Thankfully, after a flurry of legal letters and many outraged readers writing to this magazine, the Culture Department has now seen sense.
“It has finally asked for the code to a memory stick, without which it couldn’t read thousands of your responses to our original questionnaire. And, at last, it has agreed to read and record your answers to questions such as whether the BBC provides the right mix of programmes and channels. It pledges to take the views of Radio Times readers ‘fully into account’.”
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.
However, Whitehall officials failed to view the 6,085 online responses from Radio Times readers, which were sent alongside 3,000 hard copy responses following the launch of the public consultation in July 2015. The DCMS published its consultation report on 1st March 2016 without ever requesting the password to open the file – and therefore cannot have taken the digital responses into consideration.
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”.
Jonathan Dimbleby, the Any Questions? presenter, also 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.”
Despite this week’s victory, Preston also sounded a note of caution insisting that the real test will come with the White Paper which the Government says it will publish around a week after the May 5th Local Elections.
This will put forward the Government’s proposals for the BBC Charter and effectively decide its future for the traditional ten-year period – although the future length of the Charter remains an area of debate and could be changed.
“Making good a promise to read the views of people Mr Whittingdale asked to contribute is only good manners,” concluded Preston. “Soon we’ll discover whether the Culture Secretary has actually listened to your overwhelming support for an independent public service broadcaster supported by the licence fee. Watch this space…”