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In an eye-opening piece for The Guardian, Tom Baldwin, one of the Labour Party leader’s senior advisers, claims that the Tories continually interfered with press freedoms during the recent U.K. election by threatening BBC journalists and executives. The BBC gets most of its funding from a government-designated licensing fee. Baldwin contends that Tory officials alluded to severe cuts to this fee once the general election was over if BBC reporters “did not alter the political balance of its coverage of the general election campaign.”

Baldwin writes:

I know watching the news or opening a newspaper is a painful business while the Tories perform victory rolls after a win they did not fully expect or really deserve…But one story has finally made me stumble out of bed. The Tory newspapers have welcomed the appointment of John Whittingdale, an old Thatcherite, as culture secretary with gleeful headlines about the government “going to war” with the BBC. This was accompanied by unsourced comments about how the Conservatives were determined to “sort out” the broadcaster, cut or even kill the licence fee in revenge for “infuriating” them during the election campaign.

Quite apart from the disturbing suggestion that a democratically elected government would seek to stamp on and silence dissent from an independent broadcaster, there is deep falsehood at the heart of this.

There has been a long-standing campaign by the Conservative party, fuelled by the commercial interests of sections of the press, to attack the world’s most successful state-funded public service broadcaster as a giant leftwing conspiracy. It is not. And I write that with the certainty of someone who has spent this year making almost daily complaints to the BBC on behalf of the Labour party…BBC executives and journalists have told me that there were regular, repeated threats from senior Tories during this election campaign about “what would happen afterwards” if they did not do as they were told and fall into line.

Baldwin adds that those involved in the Labour Party campaign take full responsibility for its defeat, and that while he’s had his fair share of problems with the broadcaster, in his opinion, “The BBC is an organisation that is invested in fairness, seeking balance even when it is impossible to achieve, listening and speaking to everybody,” all of which is “precious and fragile, especially now.” He also explains that his biggest tiff with the BBC was over its continually implying that the Labour Party would form a coalition with the Scottish National Party, a “scare story” that may have lost Labour the election.

Conservatives, probably still celebrating their slim and extremely unexpected Thursday victory, have put down their champagne flutes to denounce Baldwin’s words as “complete and utter nonsense.”

Whether or not threats were made, it seems plausible that the Tories will move forward with gutting BBC funding, given their recent choice of culture secretary. It seems that these days, “nonsense” may not fall too far from the truth.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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