If culture secretary Karen Bradley is something of an unknown quantity to the BBC, her new junior minister Rob Wilson will be all too familiar to the UK public broadcaster.
10 Downing Street named Wilson as the parliamentary under secretary at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on Sunday and the BBC will recall his record as a vehement critic of its work during his time on the Tory backbenches.
He was the MP always ready with a quote when the newspapers dug up some dirt on the corporation and was never afraid to voice his scepticism of the BBC’s funding model, the television licence fee.
Such was his agenda, Ed Vaizey — who was moved out of the DCMS by Theresa May this weekend after nearly six years of service — once jovially described Wilson as a “right-wing loony” over his views on the BBC. In the same Guardian story, the newspaper revealed that Wilson sent a total of 67 complaints to BBC management between October 2012 and March 2014.
As a culture minister, Wilson will now help oversee crucial government policy on the BBC. Here are some of his memorable gripes.
1. Rob Wilson on radically cutting the BBC’s news operation.
In an editorial missive for The Telegraph, which compared the licence fee to a “poll tax”, Wilson took aim at the size of the BBC’s news operation.
“Cutting the BBC’s share of the news and current affairs market from nearly 50% to 15% would revitalise public debate and create a far healthier media sector,” he wrote.
He did not refer to the numerous polls that show the BBC is regularly voted one of the most trusted news sources in the UK. The most recent of these studies came in March this year.
2. Rob Wilson compares BBC payoffs to benefits fraud.
The Tory MP for Reading East was a vocal critic of the golden goodbyes the BBC was handing out to sacked staff.
These included £1 million ($1.3 million) for former deputy director general Mark Byford in 2011. The following year, former director general George Entwistle walked away with £470,000 ($617,000) after just 54 days in the job.
Wilson called for a police probe into the payoffs, but when the case was dropped in 2013, he compared the BBC’s behaviour as being tantamount to benefits fraud.
“It was the upper-class equivalent of benefit scrounging on an industrial scale,” he told The Sun.
3. Rob Wilson claims the licence fee is “out of date.”
British viewers do not have to pay their £145.50-per-year television licence if they only watch BBC content through catch-up service BBC iPlayer. Amid a rise in this activity, the government has committed to close this so-called “loophole.”
But Wilson seized on the figures to argue that it simply showed that the licence is past its sell-by date. ‘These figures demonstrate exactly why the current BBC licence fee model is out of date. It operates a 20th century model and it won’t last long with the rapid technological advances of the 21st century,” he said.
4. Rob Wilson slams the appointment of BBC strategy director James Purnell.
Wilson was not happy when BBC director general Tony Hall appointed James Purnell to his top team in 2013. Purnell joined the BBC from TV production company Rare Day, but prior to this served in the Labour cabinet under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
In a welcoming message for Purnell, Wilson said: “Many people have long had suspicions about a metropolitan, leftist bias to the BBC’s output, particularly in news. The appointment of a former Labour cabinet minister to a plum leadership role will hardly inspire confidence.”
Purnell and Wilson will now have to work together to nail down the BBC’s new 11-year operating agreement, known as its royal charter, ahead of January 2017.
5. Rob Wilson’s fury at the BBC receiving EU funding.
When the BBC revealed to the Spectator in 2013 that it had received £3 million in grants from the European Union for research and development, Wilson said this called into question its impartiality.
“We now learn that it has been going cap in hand to the EU for millions of pounds on the quiet over the last few years. Such outrageous flouting of the principles on which the BBC is based and funded will only promote cynicism about its political impartiality and lead to a loss of trust in the BBC’s independence,” Wilson wailed.
6. Rob Wilson creates racket about the BBC’s complimentary Wimbledon tickets.
In 2014, the Mail on Sunday reported the BBC hands out free tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament to “politicians, wealthy businessmen and its own staff.”
The BBC said the complimentary tennis tickets come at no cost to licence fee payers and help the broadcaster showcase its live coverage of major sporting events.
This did little to quell Wilson’s anger. “The BBC has once again been caught abusing the money of licence fee payers,” he said.
“Wimbledon tickets sprayed around to big companies who can afford their own is not what the BBC should be doing. Even if these tickets are part of a wider TV deal, it’s still a flagrant abuse.”
7. Rob Wilson pins blame on “bias” BBC notice boards.
Wilson was infuriated by claims in The Telegraph that the BBC had cut out anti-Conservative headlines from The Mirror and pinned them to the wall of its Westminster studio.
“Anyone attending an interview with the BBC will walk through this room and see, emblazoned on the walls, the apparent pre-conceived bias of those who set the topics of discussion, conduct the interview and edit the programme,” he told The Telegraph in 2014.
“It appears to show that BBC employees revel in the smears distributed by the Labour Party,” he added.
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