Cameron's letter to save BBC Oxford News


"Is this the right place…?" the Prime Minister pleaded in his own handwriting.

David Cameron was writing to the BBC Director General in an attempt to save the BBC Oxford News TV service. He was writing, of course, purely in his capacity as MP for Witney in Oxfordshire.

But Cameron was clearly aware that the BBC Director General is himself an Oxfordshire resident, and lives in north Oxford.

David Cameron's letter to Mark Thompson, written on 18 May 2011, provides an fascinating illustration of how power works, or does not work, in high places.

It reads as follows:

"Dear Mark

I have been informed by several of my constituents that BBC Oxford News is to be cut along with Cambridge and the Channel Islands as part of your "Delivering Quality First" initiative.

As you know, I am a keen supporter of a strong local media industry as providers of both a voice for local communities and information that is directly relevant to them. I was therefore disappointed to hear of the potential demise of my valued local BBC news service. I am deeply concerned that, as we no longer have strong local coverage from ITV, my constituency will become a wilderness for local news reporting.

BBC Oxford News is an excellent programme that plays an important role in my region and I would strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.

I look forward to your response."

Cameron then added in his own hand-writing:

"I know that, like everyone, you have to make savings, but is this the right place… Yours David"

And David Cameron's letter seemed to do the trick. He's certainly been crowing about his intervention on local Oxfordshire TV.

On 27 May 2011 Mark Thompson wrote back to Cameron saying: "I believe these services are very valuable… and that to withdraw them would be a retrograde step. I do not intend to include this idea in the final package of proposals that I submit to the BBC Trust, and although I cannot rule out the possibility that, in my dialogue with the Trust, other decisions might force this idea back onto the table, I would be astonished if Trustees were any more enthusiatic about it than I am."

BBC sources insist, however, that the decision to save BBC Oxford News was taken before Mark Thompson received David Cameron's letter, and therefore it is wrong to think it had anything to do with the Prime Minister's lobbying.

But the BBC does undoubtedly have good friends in Oxfordshire. Apart from Mark Thompson, the Trust chairman Chris Patten is also Chancellor of Oxford University, while the Culture minister Ed Vaizey is also an Oxfordshire MP.

And it seems strange then that Thompson waited nine days to write back and tell Cameron the good news, and more than four weeks to announce it to the relevant BBC staff.

It is also very interesting that Cameron now thinks that his area "no longer" has "strong coverage" from ITV.

For until 10 years ago Cameron was a senior executive with ITV.

Michael Crick, Political editor, Newsnight Article written by Michael Crick Michael Crick Political editor, Newsnight

End of an era

Newsnight's Political editor Michael Crick has left the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    BluesBerry - I find your posts very puzzling. Mr Cameron is an MP as well as being PM. He has a duty to represent his constituency. As part of that duty he wrote to Mark Thompson regarding the issue and asked him to reconsider. That is exactly what I would hope any good MP would do, so I have no idea why you have a problem with this. If you don't like the man, just say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    # 4 - "The use of "David" gives an impression of familiarity that feels inappropriate for business request."

    What utter hogwash. If you have a personal relationship or good business relationship with an individual there should be no issue whatsoever in using first names. I would find it more strange had he not done so if he knows Mark Thompson. It happens in business all the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    'Is this the right place' means is Oxford the right place to make cuts. I don't see anything wrong with what he has donw..h is the local MP so i would expect him to say something.

    I'd be more interested to see the response he got ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    im sure he would not have written this letter if he was an mp for a constitiuency that received ''look north'' from the bbc

    it is the most biased and uninformed news show i have ever had the mispleasure to watch,

    as im sure most people will attest regional news is the worst for its left leaning stance, even surpassing the national news which is a feat in and of its self

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    27 May 2011 Thompson answers: "...I would be astonished if Trustees were any more enthusiastic about it than I am." BBC sources insist decision made before Thompson received Cameron's letter, & therefore nothing to do with Cameron lobbying. Thompson - 9 days to respond, 4 weeks to announce to relevant BBC staff.
    Conclusion: "David" succeeded, informaility & all.


Comments 5 of 9



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