Keir Starmer, leader of the U.K. opposition and of the Labour Party, has slammed the ruling Conservative government’s “direct attack” on public service broadcasters BBC and Channel 4 and has challenged the creative sector to oppose it.
The U.K. TV license fee, the BBC’s main source of income, has been frozen for two years, while a consultation is ongoing on the privatization of Channel 4.
Delivering a keynote at the 2022 Creative Coalition Festival on Wednesday, Starmer said that the privatization of Channel Four would put £2.1 billion pounds of gross value added to the supply chain at risk over the next 10 years. It also risks putting 60 U.K. production companies out of business, “showing that the government just isn’t interested in growth,” Starmer said, adding that “a commercial BBC would rob us and the world not only of superb news services with unparalleled local knowledge but a valuable cultural export.”
“The BBC and Channel Four are the narrators of our national story – they create jobs and drive productivity,” said Starmer. “The Conservatives threaten the future of these two great institutions. Plans to privatize Channel Four and the threat to the BBC as we know it, are a direct attack on some of the best of Britain’s creative work.”
Starmer challenged the assembled creatives to be “bold” and come together, “speaking out in defence of the value of public sector broadcasting, against the government’s attacks.”
“I promise you this, you can do so, knowing that a government I lead will always have your back,” Starmer said.
The implementation of Brexit dealt a body blow to U.K. musicians touring Europe for concerts, with red tape making it complicated and thus reducing an income mainstay of the British music industry to tatters, despite the current government’s assurances. Starmer said that should Labour return to power, they would push for further agreements with the EU.
The festival’s opening address was delivered by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who made her speech, which failed to mention the BBC or Channel 4, via what appeared to be a pre-recorded segment. Starmer appeared live, and stayed for 15 minutes after his address to answer crowdsourced questions from U.K. creative industry practitioners. While Dorries talked up the music sector as examples of the U.K.’s “creative powerhouse,” she did not address the issue of touring.
“Creative professionals need to be able to travel abroad at speed – the impact on them has been particularly tough with musicians especially hard hit,” said Starmer. “The Conservatives believe that was enough to get Brexit done. Now we urgently need to make Brexit work. So we would push for a visa waiver for touring artists. And we would negotiate an EU-wide cultural touring agreement, including allowances for cabotage, carnets and customs rules.”