David Cameron set his government on a collision course with the BBC yesterday, appointing John Whittingdale as the new secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
Whittingdale, who chaired the culture, media and sport committee in the last parliament, has previously been highly critical of the licence fee system used to fund the public broadcaster.
“The best description of this is an effective declaration of war on the BBC by the government,” wrote Liberum analysts Ian Whittaker and Annick Maas.
“Whittingdale is a fierce critic of the licence fee, having likened it to the poll tax and has previously called for it to be significantly reduced and the BBC scaled back considerably.”
The note also said: “He is also likely to push for the privatisation of Channel 4.”
A former committee colleague, Conservative MP Philip Davies, told City A.M. that he was “absolutely delighted” at the news, and that “it is the best appointment that the Prime Minister has made. He knows the subject area inside out and I know he will do a brilliant job.” Davies is also a critic of the licence fee.
However, their view of the promotion as an attack on Auntie was not shared by everyone.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was the culture secretary under Gordon Brown, also served on the select committee under Whittingdale. He feels the new cabinet minister may be somewhat misrepresented.
Bradshaw pointed out a recent committee report on the licence fee, endorsed by Whittingdale, agreed that a household broadcast levy remains the best way to fund the BBC.
An industry source – at a rival broadcaster – also welcomed the appointment. They said that Whittingdale is “very knowledgable, which is of benefit to him and the industry.”
A BBC spokesperson commented: “We’re looking forward to working with the new secretary of state.”