Footage of John Cleese’s famous all-star 1985 BBC licence fee advert – in which he adapts the “What have the Romans ever done for us?” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian to show how much the corporation provides – kicked off this session on public service broadcasting. Former BBC Director-General and New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said many of the reasons that Cleese listed for paying the licence fee still felt “very true today”.
The UK is facing “a total loss of cultural sovereignty”, which risks leaving the country culturally impoverished unless action is taken to stop US giants such as Netflix from dominating the media landscape.
This was the frank message from Mark Thompson, the former Director-General of the BBC who, for seven years since 2012, has been engaged in a wholesale transformation of The New York Times from a print company into a digital-based global news operation with 5 million subscribers.
Check against delivery.
My subject this evening is sovereignty – though there won’t be much about Brexit tonight – and sadly no insights at all about today’s riveting developments.
The questions I plan to raise don’t depend on whether Brexit goes ahead. They’ll matter whether we stick with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, or head down the pub with Boris and Nigel for a chorus of Roll Out the Barrel. Or even if it turns out we’ve been characters in a play by Samuel Beckett all along – Waiting for Brexit – and the whole point was that nothing was going to happen.
Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times Company, delivers the Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture 2019.
To donate to the Steve Hewlett Memorial Fund, please visit www.rts.org.uk/SteveHewlettFund.
The Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture 2019 was filmed and edited by University of Westminster students.
Giving the third Steve Hewlett Memorial Lecture at London’s Westminster University, he accused policy makers of largely concentrating “on tightening the funding pressure and other constraints on the BBC further” including “the disastrous withdrawal of funding free licence fees for the over 75’s” agreed in the 2016 Charter now coming into full effect.
For the first time in the history of the American republic, one of our own is in the Oval Office. His day job may have been running a property empire but, as a successful reality star who still retains an executive producer credit, the 45th President of the United States is unquestionably a TV guy.
That experience gives Donald Trump an “attack is the best form of defence” confidence in his handling of the media. He banned from his campaign those publications that he claimed were reporting on him unfairly.