Commissioning Hitchens would be good for the BBC

Why commissioning Peter Hitchens would be good for the BBC, good for the country and good for the fair play ethic that has been lacking in the state broadcaster for so long

Peter Hitchens
Julian Mann
On 27 May 2014 20:27

'Senior government sources' have been telling the political press lobby that the Prime Minister wants a woman to chair the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body. Some very able women are reportedly in the running, particularly Baronesses Wheatcroft and Hogg.

But I would like to argue that the outstanding candidate for the necessary task of cleaning up the BBC is one of the Prime Minister's sternest critics, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens.

I have absolutely no idea whether Mr. Hitchens would want the job and have no vested financial or career interests in his appointment.

But here, from an increasingly exasperated licence fee-payer and occasional interviewee on BBC local radio, are some reasons why I believe he would be a good fit:

1. He is familiar with the inner workings of the BBC's journalism as an ideological outsider. He contributes fairly regularly to programmes such as BBC 1's Question Time and Radio 4's Any Questions. That combination of being an experienced journalist and broadcaster, and yet not wrapped up in the BBC's politically correct cocoon, would surely be favourable in the person leading the corporation's regulation.

2. He is fearlessly fair-minded in his dealings with people. Within the BBC there are vested interests that need to be tackled, particularly in relation to the inflated salaries that too many of its staff are being paid. Fearlessness is a quality surely essential in the person tasked to facilitate the BBC's transformation from a self-serving media behemoth into a leaner creature that serves its paying public.

3. He is a practising Anglican Christian - and here I must declare a spiritual and moral interest as one who aspires to be that myself. But I would argue that such an ethic in the person who chairs the BBC Trust would be an enormous asset. The fact is that the behaviour of which the likes of Jimmy Savile - but not only him - have been allowed to get with away under the watch of the BBC is evil according to Christian values. Of course, such behaviour is deplored by the vast majority of people, whether they would call themselves Christians or not. But a convinced Christian such as Mr Hitchens would not be morally apathetic or indifferent in the way he fulfilled his regulatory responsibilities.

As an Anglican I am concerned about the spiritual and moral state of the BBC because it is a major cultural force. The State broadcaster influences the thinking of millions of people in our society to whom we in the Church of England are called to proclaim the saving truth of Jesus Christ. That makes the appointment of the right person to head the BBC Trust a spiritually important decision.

Certainly, the appointment of Mr Hitchens would not be comfortable for the BBC's higher management; Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams found Mr Hitchens's questioning at press conferences so uncomfortable he called for him to be 'decommissioned'.

The BBC's executives would not be afforded the space to relax. But, given the nature of the reforming task now facing the body responsible for ensuring the BBC's proper public accountability, is that not another reason why commissioning Peter Hitchens could be the right move? 

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire

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