After weeks of speculation yesterday finally saw the publication of the Government's Green Paper on the future of the BBC. Depending on who you listen to this was a long-overdue effort to refocus the Beeb on its core purpose, or a blatant attempt by an ideologically-driven new Culture Secretary to undermine good old Auntie. Either way it was an important moment: the cultural life of the UK is likely to be changed significantly whatever emerges from the current consultative process.
The BBC has many fans and many adversaries. Those who'd like to see it change include other media outlets, led by Sky and the Mail, and right-wing politicians who believe that Auntie is stuffed with Guardian-reading granola eaters (although it is always worth noting that some on the left see her as fundamentally reactionary). BBC advocates include the many TV and movie celebs who wrote to the papers in its support earlier in the week, warning that a diminished BBC would lead to a diminished Britain. Forced to choose between these two poles, these two self-interested and deeply biased camps, I plump for the latter: in my view the celebs have the best point.
John Whittingdale may not be aware of the work of the Committee set up by the House of Lords a couple of years ago to look into Britain's soft power and its influence in the world
]. I have to admit its efforts had until recently largely passed me by too. But he should take some time out to read what it has to say about the impact our media and creative industries, and particularly the BBC, have upon the world.
Put simply, I suspect strongly that people all over the world are not relying on Heart FM for unbiased news: but they are relying on the World Service. They are listening to great broadcasters like Simpson, Attenborough and Adie. And yes, they are watching their own local versions of the Voice and Strictly. The impact of all of this in maintaining our place as a nation in the global pecking order cannot be overstated. It certainly shouldn't be overlooked.
One response to this might be to say that Britain's greatest cultural exports of recent years - popular music, Downton Abbey and Who wants to be a Millionaire - owe little to the BBC. But my retort would be that it is the balance of support received by our cultural sector from licence fee payers and advertisers that has given us the vibrancy and success we now enjoy; and it is having a strong leader, which combines public sector intellectualism and the commercial populism, that eggs everyone on to do the best they can. We mess with this set up at our peril.
For me the BBC sits alongside our language, our seat on the Security Council, the Premier League, the City, our artistic community and Britain's civic society in defining and preserving the UK's strength in the world. Yes, there are things about it I would change; but I would give it more leeway and more money, not try to rein it in. We should celebrate its successes, including its 'over-dominant website' and Radio 1. This is one of our crown jewels. Hands off, Mr Whittingdale.