YESTERDAY'S flurry over the membership of the panel on the BBC's Thursday night Question Time was a storm in a TV cup but it unearthed one interesting question. Downing Street had been asked for a minister to appear on the programme but when it emerged that Alastair Campbell would be speaking for Labour rather than a shadow minister they demurred. The BBC booked John Redwood MP instead of waiting for a Downing Street decision. Afterwards, the BBC producer claimed that Downing Street had been interfering with the BBC's editorial independence in trying to veto Campbell's participation. The question I mentioned earlier is this: Why does the BBC go to Downing Street to ask for a minister -- isn't that offering your editorial independence to No 10 right at the start? How long has it been going on? Another question might be whether the government could claim it should have two representatives on Question Time -- one Conservative and one Lib Dem -- to put both government viewpoints.

Hopefully the coalition government will be too busy with other things to turn its attention to the BBC, its Trust and its funding. However, some small print in the Queen's Speech referred to giving the National Audit Office full access to BBC accounts. That idea should be dropped very quickly. The BBC must be independent and opening its books to any outside organisation would put that independence at risk.


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