Channel 4 is a great British success story and an iconic institution. It has invested £12 billion in the independent production sector and regional TV, given voice to local communities across our country, and exported content around the world; and it has recorded a record £74 million financial surplus. Despite all those successes, for the sixth time, the Conservative Government are seeking to privatise it, even though they concluded just four years ago that that was a very bad idea. Could that possibly be because “Channel 4 News” is doing a solid job, in particular, of holding an incompetent and crony-connected Government to account?
The hurt and anger felt by Princes William and Harry and other members of the royal family is palpable and painful. I am so glad that there has been an unequivocal apology from the BBC and the launch of the lessons learned report on account of the diabolical journalistic practices endured by Princess Diana in 1995, but, of course, the BBC is so much more than a single programme; it is a treasured institution that has contributed immensely to our nation over the last century. So does the Minister agree that it is very distasteful to see a feeding frenzy, especially from those with a severe dislike of the BBC? Does he also agree that it is the pinnacle of irony for the Prime Minister to be talking about being immensely concerned about journalism standards, given that he himself was sacked by The Times for inventing a quote?
We in Slough are fortunate to have two brilliant local newspapers, the Slough Express and the Slough Observer, which play a vital role in our local democracy, ensuring that the good people of Slough are well informed with reliable and accurate news reporting, but, like many of their counterparts across our country, local journalism is under threat. Their trade body News Media Association has repeatedly called for business rates relief, but those calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The National Union of Journalists has proposed a detailed news recovery plan to ensure the survival of excellent journalism, which is there for all of us. Can the Minister advise us, before we lose even more valued local newspapers, when the Government will finally listen to and support this important sector?
Because of huge Government cuts, the BBC has reluctantly had to axe the free TV licence for the over-75s, and make substantial reductions to national news and its much-treasured regional news output. During the heat of the election, the Conservatives extolled the virtues of local news and promised to protect our elderly from isolation by retaining their free TV licences. Will the Minister take this opportunity to apologise to those millions of pensioners and the BBC staff who will lose their jobs as a result of the Government’s broken manifesto pledge?