John Simpson: Lib-Con coalition is best result for BBC

BBC world affairs editor John Simpson said yesterday that the formation of the coalition Government is far better news for the BBC than a Tory majority one.

Simpson told the Hay book festival yesterday: “I thought until March 8 or whenever that the BBC was inevitably doomed as a public service broadcaster.

“Not doomed as an organisation though because it’s a very profitable mark, it’s one of the few things from this country that is recognised all over the world.

“I thought as a public service broadcaster it was finished because the Labour government’s policy towards it was to cut sections out of the licence fee and give them to other organisations.

“Namely, simply every time you get annoyed with the BBC you announce you are giving Channel 4 News a bit more money. It’s a form of control, nothing more, nothing less.”

He said he was equally dejected by the Tory policy for the corporation, saying: “The Conservative policy was they were going to go in and make them do things and announce how much people were earning and there was a big question about the licence fee. They weren’t going to do anything until 2012 but there would be a lot of questions about it then.”

He said the election result meant he was now far more optimistic about the future of the BBC. “The British electorate spoke in a very interesting way and that all won’t happen now.

“When you have a Conservative Prime Minister coming into office saying he is the best friend of the BBC a Tory leader has ever been, that is not saying much, but on the other hand you have some hope.”

He added: “I think the BBC will survive now.”

Speaking to the audience about researching his new book, How The Twentieth Century Was Reported, he said he noticed similarities between three prime ministers and their attitudes to the press.

He said: “There have been three prime ministers who dealt most ferociously with the press, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Neville Chamberlain.

“The last was similar in the way Thatcher’s government and Blair’s government tried to control the press and, in Thatcher and Blair’s case, the BBC.

“From the 1930s, the 1980s and the early part of this century, not much has changed.”

He said he believed newspapers still have a place in the modern world but people are more likely to select one with views in line with their own.

He said: “I remember time and time again people saying newspapers are finished. Radio came and newspapers were finished. Television came and newspapers were finished. The internet came and newspapers were finished. The internet has damaged them in terms of readership but they are not finished.”

He added: “People just seem to want the loud voices of people who agree with them.”

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