Boris Johnson’s Departure: Media In Overdrive, TV Schedules Ripped Up & Questions Over Future Of BBC & Channel 4 — Analysis
7th July 2022

After a seismic 36 hours during which British politics has been rocked, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping down and the British media is in overdrive speculating on what happens next. In the UK broadcasting world, questions will soon be raised about a future that will almost certainly have a different Culture Secretary than current incumbent Nadine Dorries.

Following the news Johnson is resigning, schedules are being uprooted as news teams provide minute-by-minute reports on the fast-moving events and offer what insight they can. The UK’s major TV and radio stations have already been completely dominated for the past 36 hours with wall-to-wall coverage of the chaos, which was triggered by the resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid in response to the Chris Pincher scandal. That incident, the latest of many, saw Johnson sew confusion over whether he knew of sexual assault allegations made against Deputy Chief Whip Pincher, having recently promoted him.

Another 50+ resignations followed before word came this morning that Johnson will step down, although he plans to stay on until the Conservative Party Conference in October. Question marks are already being raised over how he will be able to keep a cabinet together in a caretaker capacity, with Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeting that the “notion of Boris Johnson staying on as PM until autumn seems far from ideal, and surely not sustainable?” Credible Conservative commentators have noted that his stock has fallen so low that few will want to associate with him, making his task of finding replacements even harder.

As Deadline writes this piece, BBC News specials have replaced regular programming on major linear channels BBC One and BBC Two, while BBC Radio Four’s flagship Today program was extended by 45 minutes (a rare move) and Radio Four’s daily World at One has been brought forward by one hour.

The BBC is camped outside Johnson’s 10 Downing Street home, attempting to speak to anyone who goes in and out and providing extensive coverage.

On other morning breakfast shows, there has only been one topic: the Johnson chaos.

Covering such a fast-moving story has been a daunting challenge, with ministers regularly resigning as others were speaking on air, and BBC journalists such as Nick Robinson, Mishal Hussain and Chris Mason have been roundly praised for their concise reporting.

Wildcard politicians Steve Johnson and Suella Braverman, the government’s Attorney General, have already used media appearances to throw their hats into the ring as replacements for Johnson. Braverman, a staunch Johnson ally and hardline Brexiteer, did so before he had even resigned.

At least one of Sunak and Javid, who kickstarted the resignation chaos, are also expected to run, along with major cabinet presences such as Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

What next for British broadcasting?

Bosses at the BBC and Channel 4 will be paying close attention to the chaos.

It is incredibly unlikely that Johnson’s fiercely loyal, firebrand Culture Secretary Dorries will keep her job once Johnson steps down and a new Culture Secretary, potentially more sympathetic to public broadcasting, could be emboldened to reverse some of the damage done over the past six months.

The privatization of Channel 4, a move that is opposed by 96% of the public, according to the government’s own consultation, was rubberstamped in April but has not yet made it way through UK parliament and therefore can be stopped.

The government’s media bill, which contained the decision to privatize Channel 4 amongst other law changes, was due to be debated in Parliament over the next fortnight but it is now up in the air whether this will take place before parliament breaks for summer recess.

Channel 4 has campaigned vigorously of late against the sale and made public its alternative privatization proposal, thereby proving that a readymade plan is in place if a more sympathetic Culture Secretary is installed. Earlier this week, a poll of more than 2,000 Conservative voters found privatization to be bottom of the list of priorities for the government to deliver, cited as a positive by just 16% of respondents. This suggests it is unlikely to be a vote-winning policy.

Another event due to take place over the next two weeks was the start of the BBC license fee review into the future of the public broadcaster’s funding model — another Dorries brainchild initiative that would bring to an end what has provided the BBC’s financial backbone for the past 100 years.

While Dorries’ move to freeze the BBC license fee for the next two years is unlikely to be reversed, the review could well be culled or rethought.

BBC Director General Tim Davie has said he is open to new funding models after 2027 but Dorries’ rhetoric has no doubt worried the major players in New Broadcasting House and security around the existing funding model would be welcome.

Once the media noise quietens down a bit — whenever that moment comes — a renewed campaign from the BBC and Channel 4 to reverse the carnage of the past few months may gather a head of steam.

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