The BBC is not perfect, but like the NHS it is a national treasure - Anthony Clavane

John Humphrys was never shy of criticising his own bosses at the BBC.
John Humphrys was never shy of criticising his own bosses at the BBC.
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I was reminded of one of the most famous moments of football commentary when our greatest broadcaster was threatened just after the  Conservatives were returned to power earlier this month.

Yes, it’s open season on the BBC. Boris Johnson’s Chief Special Adviser Dominic Cummings, it has been reported, is ready to stick the knife in after “defeating” what he regards as the broadcasting arm of the wet-liberal, uber-Remainer, metropolitan elite.

Huddersfield actress Jodie Whittaker is the latest person to play the Doctor, in Doctor Who.

Huddersfield actress Jodie Whittaker is the latest person to play the Doctor, in Doctor Who.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Beeb isn’t perfect. It made quite a few mistakes during the election campaign.

But, like the NHS, it is a national treasure, one of our true cultural glories.

It is almost 70 years since E M Forster penned his famous essay Two Cheers For Democracy. “One because it admits variety,” wrote Forster, “and two because it permits criticism.”

I will raise a glass on New Year’s Eve and make a similar toast: “Two cheers for the BBC.”

One because it admits a variety of high-quality, highly-entertaining, non-profit driven shows – The Apprentice, Life on Earth, Question Time, Match of the Day, Fleabag and Strictly Come Dancing.

Not to mention other classics such as Line of Duty, The Archers, Blue Peter, Desert Island Discs, University Challenge, Dr Who, Antiques Roadshow, Casualty and Sherlock.

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And what about that wonderful triumvirate of arts strands: Arena, Imagine and Storyville?

And it’s other brilliant factual programming, like BBC Four’s Secret History of the Troubles.

These are the kinds of shows that have secured the broadcaster its reputation as the envy of the world.

Alongside parliament, the Royal Family and the works of Shakespeare, it is regarded as a symbol of quintessential Britishness. And well worth the £154.50 licence fee.

Not according to Cummings, Johnson et al.

“How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels?” asked Boris Johnson during the election. “That is the question.”

When a junior minister floated the idea of decriminalising non-payers of the telly tax – which would cost the BBC around £200m – various publications queued up to suggest that they thought it was all over for the BBC.

The Sun’s Ross Clark suggested its anti-Brexit bias had infected the corporation’s entire output.

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The Times ran a “Boycott threat to punish ‘biased’ BBC” story.

Both papers, of course, are owned by the Beeb’s arch-enemy Rupert Murdoch.

“An absurd distorting mirror,” The Mail on Sunday thundered, “now increasingly the megaphone of the liberal elite.”

Which brings me on to my second cheer: because it permits criticism.

Imagine Fox News or Russia Today allowing themselves to be called out on their own programmes.

Imagine other state broadcasters providing such a fair and balanced account of a toxic election campaign. Imagine the heads of these broadcasters being grilled by their own staff the way John Humphrys laid into a succession of his own bosses.

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I appreciate that both left and right thought the BBC fell short during the campaign. The shadow cabinet’s Andy McDonald claimed it had “played a part” in Labour’s defeat.

Tory ministers boycotted news programmes – Cummings has apparently banned ministers from appearing on Radio 4’s Today – and Johnson infamously refused to be interrogated by Andrew Neil.

As the Conservative commentator Peter Oborne wrote: “I worry that, over the last few months, it has been letting down the people who believe in it.”

However, in an era of increasing polarisation, fake news and the undermining of trust in the mainstream media, the last thing we need is for the Beeb to become a political punchbag, to have its editorial independence undermined by social media trolls, to suffer an existential crisis.

For, as Oborne also noted, “it holds us all together as a nation. It stands for something magnificent about the decency and creativity of the British people”.