Jonathan Dimbleby: Twisting tigers’ tails (in the name of freedom and responsibility)
Journalist Jonathan Dimbleby is the former chair of Index on Censorship. This lecture was delivered at the 2015 Prix Italia. It is a privilege to be asked to deliver this lecture at this great annual event which celebrates all that is best in television and radio. It is also therefore daunting. As you know, this […]
14 Oct 15

Journalist Jonathan Dimbleby is the former chair of Index on Censorship. This lecture was delivered at the 2015 Prix Italia.

It is a privilege to be asked to deliver this lecture at this great annual event which celebrates all that is best in television and radio. It is also therefore daunting.

As you know, this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The triumph of freedom and democracy over tyranny – an outcome that has shaped all our lives.

If you will forgive a personal touch, it also shaped my father, Richard Dimbleby, who was the BBC’s first war correspondent and later became its most famous broadcaster. By this I mean that he emerged from the war chastened by what he had witnessed on the battlefield and, perhaps most terribly of all, in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, the horror of which he was the first to reveal to the world.

His experiences between 1939 and 1945 confirmed in him a passion for law and order and freedom and democracy as the only guardians against anarchy or despotism. It was this passion – all but universally shared in Europe at the end of the war – which created the environment in which freedom was enshrined in laws and constitutions to ensure that the values of western democracy should never again be so imperilled. Among those freedoms was the right to freedom of expression, which found formal expression in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is my purpose in the next 40 minutes or so to highlight some of the growing challenges that threaten this fundamental right. And, in that context, to focus on the role of the public service broadcasting – notably, the daddy of all public service broadcasters, the BBC, in an era of extraordinary uncertainty.

When I speak of freedom, I am not now thinking of China, which makes no pretence of being democratic or free, or Russia, which pretends to be both. Russia and China and are important but easy targets for a western critic but they are not my present focus.

I want to explore what freedom of expression means – or should mean – in those societies which claim to recognise it as a defining characteristic of Western civilisation. By comparison with the outrages committed by tyrannies elsewhere, the challenges we face in the West may seem marginal, even nugatory. I think they are insidious and growing. I believe our freedom of expression is under a degree of pressure, and even threat that should set the alarm bells ringing very loudly indeed.

Inevitably, I know rather more about the United Kingdom than I do about the other nations which profess the same values. So you’ll forgive me if I emphasise developments in my own country – though I’m confident they have a wider pertinence.

In Britain, the European Convention has been codified in the Human Rights Act of 1998 – the future of which, incidentally, is in grave doubt. As it stands, the Act has been framed to meet the criteria laid out in the European Convention which provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression” subject only to “restrictions and penalties prescribed by law and as are deemed necessary in a democratic society”.

And there’s the rub. What restrictions are necessary in a democratic society?

In our troubled and insecure environment, Britain has accumulated laws which curtail freedom of expression in the name of national security, territorial integrity, to prevent public disorder and to combat crime. Laws which also compromise freedom of expression in order to restrict what we now call hate speech.

Take the UK’s Public Order Act which makes it a criminal offence to use threatening or abusive language with the intention of causing alarm or distress to an individual OR anybody else who hears it.

It is a criminal offence to wave banners, to use language, or publish written material intended to incite racial hatred. It is a criminal offence to incite religious hatred. It is a criminal offence to incite hatred against individuals on the grounds of their sexual orientation.

In all such cases, it is not only an offence to be threatening or abusive but to use language that is intended to cause alarm or distress to another individual or may have that effect. The law applies to every form of public expression. Not only the spoken and written word but in the theatre, film, and visual arts as well.

And “why not?” you might reasonably ask? Is it not reprehensible to violate the feelings of others in such ways? Of course it is and, like you no doubt, I recoil at the thought of so doing. Like you, I suspect, I hate hate speech. But that is not quite the point.

The dilemmas we face today in liberal democracies were defined with great clarity by Britain’s answer to Voltaire, John Stuart Mill, almost 150 years ago. In his seminal work, On Liberty, he wrote, “We should have absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects”. Adding the proviso, so long as the exercise of such freedom does not cause “harm to others.”

Of course that simple phrase – harm to others – raises all manner of questions. All law is open to interpretation. What is it, for example, to cause alarm and distress? What should precisely constitute an expression of hatred that should merit criminal sanction?

In the first instance it is for individual police officers to determine whether or not an individual appears to be breaking the law. It is for the police to judge whether your language has incited hatred or thereby caused alarm or distress; and whether therefore, your speech, article, book, play, radio or television programme, film, painting or sculpture justifies your arrest.

Self-evidently, this is a quite different order of judgement from assessing whether physical violence or intimidation has been committed or a house has been burgled or a car has been stolen.

There is a critically important distinction – that the law ostensibly seeks to protect – between causing distress, which may be a crime, and causing offence which is not. Indeed it is axiomatic – or has been – that the right to express oneself in terms which may cause or are intended to cause offence are essential to a free society and a lively democracy. I don’t know about you, but I would be very offended indeed if your right to offend me was withdrawn – and vice versa.

But the distinction between causing alarm and distress and causing offence is not that easy for the layman to define and the two are only too easy – and perhaps too tempting – to elide. And this happens only too often, and at a rate which is accelerating.

This, I believe, is not so much due to the laws against hate speech themselves – but because of the attitudes which brought them into being and the prevailing climate in which the law now operates. There is a growing number of people – especially young people – for whom the long struggle to establish and protect freedom of expression belongs to a bygone age. Who do not recognise or care about that precious distinction. Who believe that you should be able to say what you like, but only so long as they agree with you. Who seem not to care about the European Convention which was established precisely to protect the expression of alternative and disagreeable and offensive opinions – as a bulwark against totalitarian fascism.

This attitude is having a growing impact on what is said or not said, depicted or not depicted in public discourse: in lectures and speeches, on university campuses and in town halls, on radio and television, in theatres and art galleries.

Last autumn, a white South African artist ignited a great controversy when he created a tableaux with living black actors chained and in cages to mimic the way in which 19th century Europeans were apparently entertained by such so-called freak shows in the 19th century.

His work, which he billed as anti-racist and anti-colonialist received critical acclaim. Some, though, took the opposite view. A journalist mounted an online petition calling for it to be banned on the grounds of complicit racism.

Fuelled by outrage, some 200 protesters gathered outside the Barbican Centre in London on the night it was due to open, waving placards and banging drums. The show was cancelled; its organisers intimidated by the protestors.

The censors in the street – won the day. As their victim, the artist, Brett Bailey, said ‘My work has been shut down today, whose will be closed down tomorrow?’

Earlier this year, a play commissioned by Britain’s National Youth Theatre was withdrawn ten days before it was due to open. The work was inspired by the case of three teenage girls who hit the media headlines after leaving their secondary school in London apparently to become Jihadi brides in Syria. The play was to be billed as an exploration of their decision and the attitudes towards Islam provoked by it.

When it was cancelled, the director and writer complained: “Voices have been silenced here…”, claiming that the only possible explanation for the decision must pressure from the authorities and the police. A claim the theatre, normally a champion of artistic freedom, denied in a mealy-mouthed apologia, claiming that it was not a good enough play.

It goes without saying that this febrile atmosphere is explained in large measure by the growing threat posed by extremists – though I think we would do better to call them fanatics. Those terrorists who perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo murders last January brought this into the most dastardly focus.

For me, some of the reactions to that atrocity were not only disconcerting but were a disturbing illustration of a growing intolerance of offensive expression.

Pope Francis led the way. He defended freedom of expression but almost in the same breath he told us that religions should not be insulted or ridiculed. Fine in itself – his opinion. But then he added that if you were to curse someone’s mother you could expect to be punched in the face. To the gullible this must have appeared as a vindication of violence. I’m sure he did not mean that but that was the message he sent to an impressionable world.

Worse were those who went berserk on Twitter and elsewhere to condemn the slogan, Je suis Charlie Hebdo, because, they claimed, the magazine was Islamaphobic and racist and therefore not worthy of defending on grounds of free expression.

These leap-to-judgement critics evidently failed to understand either the irony implicit in the cartoons or the embedded satire that is the magazine’s – sometimes puerile – raison d’etre as an anarchistic publication long renowned for being anti-racist.

Not to be outdone by the tweeters, a cavalcade of righteous authors, led by the likes of Michael Ondaatje and Peter Carey, wrote an open letter attacking the American branch of PEN for awarding Charlie Hebdo a prize for courage following the assassinations.

Not surprisingly, Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, who lived for more than a decade under a death sentence issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, was appalled when these literary giants put Charlie Hebdo in the dock for publishing what they described as “material that intensifies the anti-Islamic…. sentiments already prevalent in the Western world”.

The author was driven to say, that instead of supporting him over The Satanic Verses, such writers “would have accused me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.” And he added “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known.”

Starkly put, but not so very far out. In institutions across the Western world, the hecklers’ veto is growing in frequency and volume. Last year, in the United States, this veto was applied successfully to – among others – the former US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and the Head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde who were driven to withdraw from scheduled speaking engagements on university campuses by such threats.

On some campuses, there are calls for trigger warnings to be inserted in books like The Great Gatsby (because its misogynist), Huckleberry Finn (racist), and the Merchant of Venice (anti-Semitic). How long, one wonders, before such books are removed from the shelves altogether to protect the vulnerable from being offended.

In Britain it is no better. When a professor of government at Essex University invited Israel’s deputy ambassador to give a talk to at his department, the Ambassador was heckled so violently that his words were drowned out and the event had to be abandoned.

The professor, Thomas Scotto, said afterwards, “It broke my heart that some students came with pages and pages of notes to challenge the speaker, and that was wasted because other students violently opposed him being there…”

There is something peculiarly ugly about those young minds so closed to alternative views that they block their ears and intimidate others into silence.

It flies in the face of the belief that, above all in academic institutions, every view should be heard and argued out and challenged however disagreeable it may be – so long as it is expressed in terms which do not violate the law. As J.S. Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”

At the London School of Economics, a couple of years ago, a pair of undergraduates manned the Atheists, Humanist and Secularist Society stand at the University’s freshers fair. They wore joke T-shirts mockingly depicting Jesus and a Muslim prophet named Mo who were holding banners saying “Stop drawing holy prophets in a disrespectful manner NOW”.

Witnessing this, the gauleiters from the Students’ Union took it upon themselves to order the pair to lose the tee-shirts and then seized the atheist literature from the stand. Five security guards arrived to inform the pair that the T-shirts constituted “an act of harassment” that could “offend others”.

The two students obediently concealed the tee-shirts from view.

The School later apologised saying that “with hindsight” wearing the tee-shirts did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies. It shouldn’t have taken hindsight. Too often university authorities are supine in the face of student intimidation.

And it is intimidation. Three months ago, an eminent scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, made an off-the cuff speech at a conference of science journalists in Seoul. In his opening words, the septuagenarian Nobel Laureate joked feebly that girls shouldn’t work with men in the laboratory because they fall in love and women cry when criticised. It was a very poor joke.

And it went viral on the Twitter-sphere. University College, London, where he held an Honourary Professorship was aghast. And rushed to judgement, demanding his resignation.

No matter that it soon emerged he had gone on to say that an old dinosaur like him should be ignored and that woman of course had an important role to play in scientific research, it was too late. The online trolls – who managed to ignore that small fact – had won.

No matter either, that he apologised for causing such offence.

With a craven disregard for justice and fairness, the academics at UCL closed ranks behind the Provost – who had opined that Hunt’s joke had “sent out the wrong message.” On the same grounds, he resigned from roles at Royal and European Research Council. A distinguished scientist’s career as nothing compared with a bad joke that “sent the wrong message”. So much for freedom of expression.

As a footnote, I should add that, like a good number of UCL’s alumni, I was appalled and, in my case, took the painful step of disowning my own honorary fellowship, of which I had been mightily proud.

Unhappily, it is not only theatres and art galleries and universities which threaten this principle.

In the name of national security and to protect the public from a very real threat from extremists the government seeks quite properly to deter British citizens from condoning, supporting or participating in the terrorist outrages committed around the world by murderous cults like ISIS and its associates.

To that end it is soon to launch a counter-extremism strategy. Extremism being defined as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of the law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs…”

In this endeavour, the Prime Minister has declared that “our strongest weapon [is] our own liberal values.”

Who could disagree? The objectives are not at issue. No, it is means, not the ends that are troubling. There are to be “new narrowly targeted powers” in the forthcoming Extremism Bill designed to prevent what the Prime Minister describes as “cult leaders” from peddling their hatred in public places.

If he means that such hate preachers should not be treated as latter day messiahs, I am with him. If, however, he wants to stop them being interrogated, cross-examined, contradicted or ridiculed, then I think he is wrong.

Preachers spouting hateful nonsense – as opposed to advocating hateful action – should be subjected to merciless scrutiny. The essence of liberal values. So it is dismaying to read reports that the British Home Secretary wants to go further and has been considering the imposition of a “pre-transmission regulatory regime” – the words used by one cabinet minister evidently aghast that any of his colleagues should contemplate muzzling radio and television in the hope of stamping out extremism.

This would not only be wrong in principle but, in today’s climate, it would nurture all manner of conspiracy theories that fanatics would foster and relish. Nothing could better calculated to incubate the virus of extremism. It would be driven even further underground where it would find a ready host in those who feel lost, alienated and resentful.

The vulnerable would be seduced into those dark corners of the world wide web which can’t be policed and where terrorists can speak their vile minds and show their horrific images without let or hindrance. Far from countering extremism, such bans would give it succour.

As I have tried to indicate, we live in a world where freedom of expression is being tested as never before in our lifetimes. Paradoxically, it is also a world in which the revolution in global communications offers freedoms that were – until very recently – unimaginable.

Online, you can browse the web to explore infinite vistas. You can discover and learn, entertain and inspire, you can share thoughts and feelings. It is in almost every way a liberation for all of us.

Almost! In this Babel, you can also babble with impunity. You can numb our senses with twittering bromides, or, under the cloak of anonymity, you can express the ugliest of sentiments to which you would never have the guts to put your name. You can join a witch-hunt to destroy a reputation or to assassinate a character.

We are thus simultaneously liberated and imprisoned by social media in a virtual world where falsehoods enjoy the same status as truths – or, at least, where it is easier than ever, in that old phrase, for a lie to get half way round the world before truth has got its boots on.

Add to this, the cacophony of words and sounds and images that emanate from countless commercial radio and television stations that are readily available to meet almost any taste. And you might wonder what more we could possibly want?.

To which my answer is public service broadcasting, which is assuredly more important than ever and, ironically, under greater threat than ever.

Once again, I exclude the state broadcasters in Russia and China and elsewhere, who lavish huge amounts of money and deploy the kind of skills that Goebbels pioneered to hone their propaganda for a global audience. I am talking about those public service broadcasters which may be financed entirely or in part by the citizen or the state but whose independence is supposed to be constitutionally sacrosanct.

If I may, I will focus on the United Kingdom which may claim to have pioneered public service broadcasting – and on the BBC, which has become the most influential public service broadcaster in the world. It sets a benchmark for all broadcasters – public and commercial. It is a beacon that serious programme-makers in all parts of the world look to as source of strength that helps to reinforce their own aspirations. Where the BBC leads others follow. That is why I think you should pay close attention to what is happening to the BBC today, and what threatens to happen tomorrow..

In the complicated world that I have described, the BBC has a unique and vital role. It a forum which is trusted more than any other. Because it is impartial. Because it doesn’t take sides. Because it offers a sanctuary of reliable information and facts against the bombardment of dubious claims and dishonest propaganda by which the innocent are constantly assaulted. Because, because, because…

I should perhaps declare an interest. I earn part of my income from the BBC, but I don’t think that what I want to say is warped by a reluctance to bite the hand that helps to feed me.

In the recent past, the BBC has not infrequently demonstrated a unique ability to be its own worst enemy. It has managed to seem arrogant and defensive at the same time. Its senior executives paid themselves far too much. It wasted tens of millions on IT systems which didn’t work and failed to own up until the truth was forced out.

It had layer upon layer of bureaucracy – an army of middle managers. And when they were past their sell-by date, they were bumped sideways and paid more. When programme-makers got things wrong – as they are sometimes bound to do – the BBC has been slow to admit error and reluctant to apologise.

But under the merciless gaze of a hostile press and its allies in Parliament, the leadership of the BBC is well on the way to eradicating these flaws. Of course mistakes are still made and they will be made. People get things wrong. But every time they do, however small the error, the critics – lacking all perspective – are swift to pounce.

Facing this noisome chorus of critics the BBC has, in the past, too often sounded as though it had lost its way, no longer certain of its role and purpose.

And sometimes it has responded with timidity. Backing away from controversy, playing safe. Avoiding risk. But that is changing. Mercifully, the critics have galvanised the Corporation. Under the leadership of a gutsy director-general, it no longer sounds defensive. It is at last on the front foot. It is not a moment too soon.

I say “critics”. I should, in some cases, say “enemies”. Because enemies there are. And today they are more powerful than they have ever been. Some are ideological enemies. Some are commercial enemies.

The former are to be found at their most ferocious on the backbenches of the House of Commons. These individuals have a visceral belief that in the 21st century the BBC no longer has a useful role; that in the global market place, the market should prevail.

It’s a perfectly coherent stance – but I wish they’d pin their colours to the mast before using their privileged platform to pin the BBC to the wall as though it were led by people who were enemies of the state rather than guardians of David Cameron’s liberal values.

In their animosity, they forget that – with a global audience of more than 300 million – potentially rising to 500 million within the next seven years – the BBC has a unique ambassadorial role for Britain that no commercial rival can emulate.

They forget that the rest of the world would think us mad to diminish the BBC as a global force by making a range of programmes that vast numbers of people devour with delight and relief.

They forget that the BBC provides an unrivalled cultural platform for the nation’s most creative talents. They forget such things because they think the BBC is an anachronistic behemoth that has had its day – or at the very least should be cut back to the core – whatever they think should be.

They might take a moment to look at the figures.

Not only at those which show that a majority of the British public – who pay the equivalent of £2. 80 a week (that’s less than four euros) – would have it no other way.

Not only those which show that the BBC today reaches 97% of the nation, providing them with more channels and services than was dreamed of 20 years ago – and for the same amount of money in real terms as it did then.

And, while they’re about it, they should remind themselves that the big digital players they so admire have come to dwarf the BBC in size and income. The revenues earned by Sky (£7.6 billion pounds), Google (£60 billion), Apple (£170 billion). Compare that to the BBC’s total income at just over £5 billion pounds.

Then are the enemies in the media. Not so much driven by ideology as profit. Principal among these – but by no means alone – is News UK, which is owned by News Corp which is owned by Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox which, in case you wondered, is the parent company that owns Sky.

News Corp’s papers in Britain – whose freedom of expression, incidentally, I would do nothing to curb, assiduously canvass the views of those MPs who are most likely to put the BBC is in the dock for this or that failure to live up to the Murdoch empire’s well-attested standards of integrity and probity.

I could give you scores of examples. But one, I think, will make the point. There’s an innocuous weekly television programme which emanates from the BBC’s Religion department. It’s called Songs of Praise. A few weeks ago its editor elected to film the programme in Calais where refugees seeking asylum in Britain are encamped at Sangatte.

The Sun newspaper detected an open goal. Under the banner headline – Hymnigrants – BBC BLASTED, it reported: “BBC Chiefs spark outrage by filming Songs of Praise at a notorious Calais migrant camp.”

Further down, it cited its source for the alleged outrage – its only source: a Conservative backbencher who obligingly told the newspaper, “We are facing a grave crisis. The BBC should be careful not to start looking as if they are making political points out of this.”

Never mind that the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the fact that Songs of Praise was to celebrate the ‘love of Christ’ in a makeshift Ethiopian church. Or that the programme contained no political content, or that it was sensitively produced and presented. That was of no interest to The Sun. The Murdoch message was clear. The BBC is run by a bunch of lefties who are soft on immigration.

News Corp and its ilk have a vested financial interest in reducing the BBC’s scope and influence in the hope that the edifice will tumble leaving a gaping hole in the market for them to fill. If they are good enough to report this lecture it will be interesting to see whether they report anything more than the criticisms of the BBC that I made a moment or two ago. For they and their cronies in Westminster are doing their best to shape the outcome of the negotiations now under way between the broadcaster and the government over the renewal of the BBC’s Charter – effectively its licence to broadcast.

The process is in the hands of the UK’s Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale. In July he produced a Green Paper outlining the issues which the government believes to be at stake. It is open to public comment.

The invitation, made on the Department’s blog, made his agenda pretty clear. It asserts that today, “the BBC is just one voice among many” before going on to ask the public if, the Corporation had, I quote, “become too big, and if so, should it be more focused.” What a lawyer might describe as a leading, and, I would call, a loaded question.

Mr Whittingdale has also appointed eight people to advise him on the renewal of the Charter – all of whom have interests or roles in the media or private sector. This was enough to prompt the Tory grandee, Lord Patten, the last chairman of the BBC Trust and incidentally the first BBC lecturer at the Prix Italia, to say that the Secretary of State had appointed a “team of assistant gravediggers” to help him “bury the BBC that we love.”

At the same time, the Government bounced the BBC into accepting a licence fee from 2016 onwards, which appeared to guarantee an increase in line with inflation – until we learned that this deal would depend on any changes to “the purpose and scope of the BBC” during the Charter negotiations. So what appeared to be set in stone has actually been built on quicksand.

The BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, puts a brave face on it. But he has already to find some £700 million of savings over the next five years – a cut of 25% in the BBC’s budget. As well as the loss of thousands of jobs he must now contemplate closing or radically re-casting the four national BBC television channels – and, to me, it looks horribly like mission virtually impossible.

Whatever ministers may say, Hall knows the BBC faces an existential struggle against those commercial and ideological pressures to which the government is listening with close attention. And he has opted to go on the offensive, telling the government bluntly not to “screw around” with the UK broadcasting ecology.

A host of famous figures has weighed in to support the BBC and to demand, in effect, that those who happen to be in power for a while shouldn’t misuse their positions to destroy a great national institution; saying in effect that the BBC belongs to the British people and not to any ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ claque of politicians.

This may be having some effect. The Culture Secretary has changed his tone, saying at the Edinburgh Television Festival, “It was never our intention to create the impression that the BBC was under attack.” Well, on that count, he has so far failed magnificently!

At the Cambridge Television Festival last week, he made it clear that everything about the BBC was up for grabs – its system of funding, governance, performance, and market impact. And he warned specifically that it was “important to look at the impact the BBC has on commercial rivals.” In a novel departure for a cabinet minister, he even tried his hand as a TV scheduler, suggesting that it was unfair on ITV’s News at Ten to go head to head against the BBC’s Ten O’clock News. All of which is a trifle unsettling for those who think that ministers are supposed to have a hands-off relationship with the editorial decisions of the public service broadcaster.

It is not easy to make head or tail of what is in the government’s mind. It would of course be all too easy to enforce the BBC to downsize, to limit its remit and then reduce the licence fee accordingly. We can already see that happening elsewhere in Europe. It may be tempting to argue that a smaller, leaner BBC would be a good thing. That programmes like Strictly Come Dancing – Dancing with the Stars to some of you – which garner huge audiences, should be left to the market.

That radio stations which devote themselves principally to popular music – but also offer sharp news, lively comment, and intelligent discourse to many millions of listeners – should be sold off.

And that the BBC should confine itself to those genres that make it unique: its news and current affairs, documentaries, drama and high end arts.

But it would have disastrous consequences. The BBC would shrink to become a minnow among the sharks in the broadcasting ocean. Its income would fall to the point at which it would be impossible to finance a national and global news service on anything like the scale it now provides – let alone the documentaries and drama for which it is internationally renowned. It would tail spin down into a broadcasting vortex.

Which takes me back to where I began. To that post-war commitment to the rule of law and to freedom and democracy. And to the world in which we now live and in which, for reasons I have tried to explore, those essential qualities of Western civilisation are once again imperilled.

In this dysfunctional world, the BBC, like other public service broadcasters across Europe, has a vital role. It is a unique forum. Its values are not so much enshrined in its Charter as deeply embedded in its DNA: the way in which it reports the world, the way in which it offers comment and analysis, the way in which it tests propositions, mediates debate and genuinely seeks clarity and light is unique and invaluable.

The BBC is a world leader because – if I can state a truth that is almost universally acknowledged – it gets closer to achieving the unachievable than any other broadcasting institution.

It would be a tragedy if any government, wittingly or unwittingly, were so to tamper with the BBC as to turn it into merely into ‘one voice among many.’ It would also be unforgivable. We would all be the losers.

Thank you.