MEDIACITYUK CONFLICTS OF INTEREST?
At How Do's The Impact of MediaCityUK event, Shadow Culture Minister Ivan Lewis strongly defended the BBC's move to Salford but had no answer to questions posed about potential conflicts of interest with its Media City landlords Peel Holdings.
Peel Holdings owns all the land, buildings and technical equipment that the BBC will lease from the company until 2031, and has extensive interests across the north including Liverpool Airport and Peel Ports which stretches from Liverpool Docks along the entire 36 mile length of the Manchester Ship Canal.
In a speech to the conference, made up of independent TV producers and business people, Mr. Lewis said: "Let me say this to those commentators, celebrities and BBC staff who have railed against the BBC move to Salford and the investment in Media City, shame on you for your outdated prejudices, one dimensional view of Britain and negativity about the north which belongs in the dark ages."
The former minister was asked from the conference floor how the BBC could maintain its editorial independence in relation to transparency, democracy and scrutiny if the activities of a huge company such as Peel, that has recently staged a takeover bid for Pinewood Film Studios, came into question.
Ivan Lewis MP for Bury South replied: "It's a developing relationship. Yes, I agree there has to be maximum transparency - we need to be positive in developing business but of course there has to be maximum transparency."
As he was leaving the conference to take the train back to London the MP was challenged by the Salford Star as to exactly how the transparency would be achieved?
"How would you do it?" he replied.
He was asked again…"I don't know. Are you suggesting the BBC will go soft on Peel?"
There is a possibility of that, given the tenant landlord relationship so what are the safeguards?
Mr. Lewis shrugged his shoulders and said: "What are the situations you envisage?"
He was reminded that Peel is a huge company with extensive interests across the north and is now in the process of taking over Pinewood studios.
"Are you saying that the BBC will soft soap?"
That's exactly the concerns. There is not only a business relationship, there is the human factor. If staff from both organisations are working closely together - sharing equipment and space with the added human aspect of personnel sharing meetings about future developments and day to day business - it has to be a temptation.
"Well what can I do about it? It's a done deal, what would you do?" he replied.
Would it not have been better if the deal had not been done like this at all?
"Well I will raise the issues" he said "But the BBC would say they are funded by the Government but they challenge the Government and do not let that get in the way of scrutiny."
Reminded that Peel was not the government but a commercial company that is not required to be as open and responsive as the Government, did he realise the concerns people had? The Labour Leader of Salford City Council, John Merry, once even accused Peel of "Trying to buy an election"…
"Yes I do realise the concerns" said Ivan Lewis "I will raise it"…
We look forward to hearing those concerns raised publicly in Parliament and beyond…
* The Salford Star recently put in four questions to Peel Holdings about MediaCityUK and its operations and so far has not had a reply to any - or even an acknowledgement.
See a further report by Nigel Pivaro on the How Do MediaCityUK event - click here
Photo of MediaCityUK by Jemma Cooper