A petition to “save our BBC” has attracted more than 100,000 signatures in less than 24 hours after unnamed government sources threatened to “whack” the British broadcaster by scrapping the license fee and forcing it to radically scale back its services.
The 38 Degrees petition is a response to a report on the front page of Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sunday Times, in which sources close to prime minister Boris Johnson set out a blueprint for how the BBC should be dismantled when its current charter expires in 2027.
The anonymous briefing said the license fee, which funds the BBC to the tune of £3.7 billion ($4.8B), should be scrapped and the corporation moved to a Netflix-style subscription funding model. The sources also said the BBC should be forced to sell off key radio stations, including Radio 2, and cut back its 10 television channels.
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“We are not bluffing on the license fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has got to be a subscription model. They’ve got hundreds of radio stations, they’ve got all these TV stations and a massive website. The whole thing needs massive pruning back,” a source told The Sunday Times.
The 38 Degrees petition said the BBC is a “world-leading public service” and needs to be protected from “political attack.” It has already gathered support from figures including Philip Pullman, the His Dark Materials author who has inspired a BBC and HBO drama of the same name. Pullman said Johnson’s ambition to prune the BBC is a “thinly veiled attempt to dodge accountability.”
The Sunday Times story was played down by government minister Grant Shapps on Sunday. The transport secretary told Sky News that he would be “pretty cautious of some unattributed comments” and described the BBC as a “national treasure.” Shapps added: “It is simply not the case that there is some preordained decision about the future funding of the BBC out there. The charter runs to 2027 so there is long way to go on all these decisions.”
Other senior Conservative MPs were also alarmed by the newspaper briefing. “I hope the Sunday Times story about the BBC is kite-flying. Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto and would be cultural vandalism,” tweeted Damian Green, the former secretary of state for work and pensions.
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