FOREIGN AFFAIRS – BBC RUSSIAN SERVICE – 16 December 2008

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): ... I should like to respond to a number of points that were made during the debate. I began by saying that I respect the hon. Gentleman's [Greg Hands'] motivation, although I am concerned that several of his points imply far greater hands-on political control of the BBC World Service by the Government. I think that that would be wrong and, frankly, I believe that it would be deeply unhealthy for politicians to decide directly the editorial content of programmes throughout the world.

Dr Julian Lewis: My hon. Friend never suggested that.

Bill Rammell: Let me—

Mr Hands: Will the Minister give way? ... I did not in any way suggest that the Government intervene in editorial comment; it was more that they might intervene to secure the ability to broadcast, to help with infrastructure and to extend the BBC Russian Service.

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Bill Rammell: ... I would describe the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) – I do not believe that he will take offence at this – as an ideologue.

Dr Lewis: indicated assent.

Bill Rammell: The hon. Gentleman nods. He put forward the view that the BBC's purpose is objectivity, with a mission to promote British values, and I must say that one British value that I subscribe to is a free and independent media, whereby the state broadcasting corporation is able to challenge, to scrutinise and to say uncomfortable things that do not necessarily suit the views of the Government of the day or the prevailing ethos. Therefore, I would not be comfortable going down the road that he suggested.

Dr Lewis: I am sorry but I was talking about Western, liberal and democratic values, and I really wish that the Minister would stop setting up Aunt Sallies and misrepresenting the Opposition's genuine concerns.

Bill Rammell: I do not believe that the purpose suggested by the hon. Gentleman is the purpose of the BBC. Its purpose is to put forward a variety of views, and the most effective way of challenging those views with which we fundamentally disagree is to scrutinise and oppose them through a free and independent media ...

[For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]