When Liz Truss and Joe Lycett showed up to film the first edition of the BBC’s flagship new political interview show, the soon-to-be prime minister was probably expecting to be the headline-grabber.
Instead, the Daily Mail decided that the real story of Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Truss was the mocking reaction of comedian Lycett, who marked the end of the Sunday morning conversation by shouting: “Woo, you l ‘ve broken, Liz!”
Going with the front-page headline ‘Now the BBC comic pokes fun at Liz Truss’, the newspaper relegated the Tory leader’s woolly promises on energy bills to the inside pages. Instead, the Mail focused on Tory fury at how the comic ‘upstaged’ Truss in front of 1.5million viewers, all with the connivance of the BBC.
While the arrival of a new prime minister offers an opportunity to reset government policy, it is also an opportunity for sections of the media to remind others who’s boss. The Mail’s front page on Lycett coincided with the first official day at work for Deborah Turness, the new head of BBC News, who joined after years of government pressure over what ‘impartiality’ should mean for the national broadcaster . Director-General Tim Davie and BBC Chairman Richard Sharp also face their annual cross-examination by MPs from the culture select committee on Tuesday – a meeting in which Lycett will suddenly be a central figure for having dared to make fun of the new Prime Minister. .
A problem for the BBC is how the government’s criticism of the society’s so-called left-wing anti-Tory agenda seeps into its news production and other aspects of its programming. When Davie was named chief executive, there were a series of briefings about how the company’s comedy production had become too anti-conservative, and Nish Kumar’s satirical Mash report – which repeatedly angered right-wing pundits – was deleted soon after.
This prompted a BBC comedy producer to complain that he wanted more diversity of political opinion, but there just weren’t enough right-wing funny guys to fill the schedules. They said, “Some people aren’t very good. The problem is a shortage of right-wing comics.
Following the Dyson report into the mishandling of Martin Bashir’s 1995 BBC interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, the company has already committed to ongoing reviews of the impartiality of the quasi- all of its content. These will examine how a particular topic is covered in everything from news to children’s production to entertainment – and even comedy.
As the media industry expects the Truss government to commit to reviewing BBC licensing fees, calls for support are growing desperate. On Monday evening, BBC journalist Clive Myrie used Steve Hewlett’s memorial lecture to make a direct appeal to the new government. He said Culture Secretary – who could still be incumbent Nadine Dorries – must ‘renew her commitment to quality public service broadcasting at the BBC and Channel 4’ because she is ‘too important to be left in the hands of a free market”.
Lycett’s criticism was the second time in two days that the Mail newspaper family has expressed outrage at comedians poking fun at power. On Sunday they attacked Have I Got News For You, the show that helped elevate Boris Johnson to national personality status in the 1990s and 2000s, for repeatedly lambasting the Prime Minister in a special ‘tribute’ edition .
Yet, in a sign of the waning importance of the print media, Kuenssberg’s new show broke with the tradition of Sunday political broadcasts of having an in-depth formal review of newspapers. Instead, the first few pages flashed onscreen for seconds, meaning the Mail on Sunday’s headline “BBC Comic’s C-word jibe against PM” was barely visible.
“I really don’t think they’re upset,” a deadpan Lycett told Times Radio on Monday, after his speech garnered millions of views on social media. “I spoke to Laura and her team beforehand and they said they wanted to go in a slightly different direction…I guess maybe they didn’t realize I’m really right wing now, I think maybe they thought I was on the left.”