My BBC speech at Liberal Democrat conference

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Yesterday, I delivered my first speech at a federal Liberal Democrat conference, so I thought I’d share it here for posterity. This was part of the debate on the “Save the BBC” motion. The video of yesterday isn’t yet up on the Party Conference YouTube channel, but I’ll add a link when it is available.


I should start with a declaration of interest — I used to work for the BBC.

Yes, if you were listening to Five Live in the middle of the night around the early 2000s, you would have heard me present the Travel News.

And conference, having worked for the BBC, I’m fully aware of its flaws.

But as a citizen of this country, I’m even more aware of the massive hole in our democracy the absence of the BBC would cause.

Democracy is not just an event that happens every so often, it’s an ongoing process.

A fundamental part of that process is a free and independent media that can keep the people informed about what their governments are doing.

And that is the heart of the BBC’s mission, those fundamental Reithian principles of public service broadcasting: to educate, to inform and to entertain.

The media plays a vital role in educating and informing the people, and we need a media we can trust to inform us, and that’s a media that’s accountable to the people, not to a billionaire owner.

In this era of fake news and viral nonsense that’s not just threatening our democracy, it’s threatening our lives, we need a trusted source for educating the nation, and this motion rightly commends the work the BBC has done on providing trusted information during the pandemic.

We hear people say that the BBC could move to a subscription model, and be like Netflix or Sky or Amazon Prime, but those can only ever meet the third part of that Reithian model — entertainment.

There’s no local news on Netflix, there’s no Sky local radio, there’s no set of free Amazon websites to educate and inform the nation.

The pandemic is accelerating the trends that have destroyed our local media.

In the last few weeks a whole group of what were local radio stations providing local news and information, as well as a way for people to get media jobs in their area, have disappeared into the national Greatest Hits Radio.

In many places BBC local radio is the only locally-produced and relevant source of news and information.

When I worked for the BBC, I dealt with many people who work in BBC local radio, and these are people who are passionate about providing a service for their community.

Local radio facilitates local conversations and local identity, it enables scrutiny and involvement in local democracy, and we need a properly-funded and properly-supported BBC to ensure this survives.

Conference, there are many ways we could improve the BBC but as liberals and citizens of a liberal democracy we must support all the institutions that enable the process of democracy.

The BBC is vital to our democracy and we must protect it from those who would prefer the media to be in the control of a handful of unaccountable billionaires. Support the BBC, and support this motion.

Written by

Many, many things. PhD student at QMUL. Councillor. Ran the 2019 London Marathon for Brain Research UK. @nickjbarlow on Twitter.

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