Cameron's letter to save BBC Oxford News
- 28 June 2011
- From the section UK Politics
"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:
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.