BBC needs to avoid ‘narrow urban outlook’, Culture Secretary to say

Oliver Dowden is due to speak at the Media and Telecoms 2020 and Beyond conference in London on Thursday.

BBC Broadcasting House in London
BBC Broadcasting House in London

The BBC needs to avoid providing a “narrow urban outlook” and make sure it has “genuine diversity of thought and experience”, ministers are expected to say.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will tell leaders from some of the UK’s biggest media, telecoms and technology organisations that the contribution the BBC and other public service broadcasters have made to the country’s cultural heritage should be cherished.

But speaking at the Media and Telecoms 2020 and Beyond conference in London on Thursday, Mr Dowden is expected to say that the BBC is similar to many British institutions in having “missed” or being slow to pick up on many of the key political changes and trends in recent years.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will talk about the need for ‘genuine diversity of thought and experience’ at the BBC (Aaron Chown/PA)

Mr Dowden will say the broadcaster needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole UK.

He adds: “If we’re honest, some of our biggest institutions missed, or were slow to pick up, key political and social trends in recent years.

“The BBC needs to be closer to, and understand the perspectives of, the whole of the United Kingdom and avoid providing a narrow urban outlook.

“By this, I don’t just mean getting authentic and diverse voices on and off screen – although this is important …

“But also making sure there is genuine diversity of thought and experience.”

Downing Street is considering replacing the TV licence fee with a subscription model as part of a move to scale back the corporation’s operations.

The Government is already consulting on proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and ministers have suggested it could be abolished altogether when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal in 2027.

Mr Dowden is due to say that the BBC has helped frame “our uniquely British sense of self” in a way no other broadcaster has done, through shows such as Fawlty Towers, Gavin and Stacey, and Blue Planet.

He will say the BBC has the ability to command global respect and reach more than 400 million people around the world every week but point out that for institutions to retain support and relevance they have to change.

Mr Dowden will add: “When there is so much choice around, the BBC and our public service broadcasters need to focus even more strongly on relevance and representation.

“So the BBC is an institution to be cherished.

“We would be crazy to throw it away, but it must reflect all of our nation, and all perspectives.”

Mr Dowden will also say that in an age of fake news, the need for impartiality is “greater than ever”.

He adds: “Recent Ofcom research shows the perception of news impartiality is currently lower for some public service broadcasting channels than commercial channels like Sky and CNN.

“Ultimately, if people don’t perceive impartiality, then they won’t believe what they see and read and they’ll feel it is not relevant to them.

“In an age of fake news and self-reinforcing algorithms, the need for genuine impartiality is greater than ever.”

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