Does the British government want to "eviscerate" the BBC?

BAFTA winners Wolf Hall lashed out at reform plans last night...

Does the British government want to "eviscerate" the BBC?

'Best Actor' winner Mark Rylance defended the BBC at the BAFTAs. Picture by: Ian West / PA Wire/Press Association Images

It's been criticised by British chancellor George Osborne for its apparent "imperial ambitions" and British culture secretary John Whittingdale has called its destruction "a tempting prospect", but the BBC got some much-needed, fervent support at the BAFTA Television Awards last night.

The UK government suffered a number of stinging attacks at the ceremony in London as the Beeb enjoyed double wins for Peter Kay comedy vehicle Car Share and BBC2 drama Wolf Hall.

It was Wolf Hall's director Peter Kosminsky that was the first to speak out, receiving a standing ovation when he accused the government of "trying to eviscerate" not only the BBC but also Channel 4.

He went on to call them the envy of the world and called on the audience and viewers to stand up and fight for the broadcasters.

Kosminsky said:

"This is really scary stuff folks, not something I thought I'd see in my lifetime in this country.

"It is not their BBC, it's your BBC. There will be no more Wolf Hall, no more groundbreaking Dispatches".

He argued that planned reforms that could interfere with shows such as BBC News and Strictly Come Dancing seemed straight out of the "bastions of democracy Russia and North Korea".

Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, who picked up a gong for his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, continued Kominsky's point.

He said:

"Woe to any government or corporation that tries to get between the British people and their love of a good joke, a true story, a good song, a fact or fiction, good sports commentating, newscasters who can hold themselves together as they tell stories about terrible tragedies in Paris, people who can help you bake cakes.

"We’re a nation of storytellers, were admired around the world for it. Tonight I was struck with the quality of storytelling in the country and I agree with Peter, times are hard.

"In the week in which our secretary of state John Whittingdale described the disappearance of the BBC as a tempting prospect, I’d like to say a few words in defence of that organisation".

Ian Hislop, Craig Revel Horwood and James Nesbitt all joined in the show of support.

Hislop commented:

"I have an idea that John Whittingdale’s ideal show would be the prime minister as host [of Have I Got News For You], the defence secretary and the home secretary as the two team captains.

"It is a ludicrous idea what he is proposing. But I think that like most of the really terrible ideas that this government has come up with, in about three weeks they will decide that they didn’t mean it and they will row back".

Whittingdale is set to publish proposals on Thursday that would likely bring in sweeping changes to how the BBC is governed.

These plans would include the BBC Trust being replaced by an appointed board, dividing up its licence fee with other broadcasters and pushing many of the BBC's most popular shows, such as The Great British Bake-Off and Strictly Come Dancing, out of prime time slots to create greater competition. Whittingdale also wants greater public scrutiny of the corporation's spending.

While his proposals will not require legislation,The Observer has reported that at least 20 senior Conservative MPs are set to strongly oppose what they see to be a threat to the national broadcaster's editorial independence and creative freedom.

One Tory backbencher told The Observer:

"Any government plan that appears to be anti-BBC, and above all to question its independence, would not go down well with a significant number of Tory MPs.

"Who are the people who listen to The Archers, watch Strictly and listen to the Today programme? In large part, they are Tory voters".

On Friday, BBC director-general Lord Hall of Birkenhead is set to announce that the BBC's website "cannot be all things to all people", as massive cuts to the site's content are brought in. "Soft news", such as recipes, celebrity gossip, travel advice and magazine features will be done away with completely. The website will focus instead on video content and a core news service.