THINGS are not looking good for the BBC. It seems very much like the government is flexing its muscles and taking aim at a prime target.

But what has Auntie Beeb done to get in David Cameron’s bad books, and just what is going to be left of a fine old British institution when the dust finally settles?

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and you really do get the impression some of the strictures proposed by the government are in revenge for slights, real or imagined, going back decades.

One thing is for sure — if the government gets its way the BBC of the future will be very different from the BBC we currently know and, for the most part, love.

Leading the charge is Culture Secretary John Whittingdale who told MPs a decision had to be made on whether the BBC should try to do “all things” or become more “precise”, according to, somewhat ironically, the BBC website.

Launching a Green Paper on the corporation’s future, he said he wanted the corporation to “thrive”.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Whittingdale said the consultation would raise four fundamental questions: What is the overall purpose of the BBC? What services and content should it provide? How should the BBC be funded? How should the BBC be governed and regulated? He stressed the BBC should remain “distinctive”. Remember that word — we will return to it later.

Needless to say, this all has not gone down terribly well with the mandarins at Broadcasting House who replied in a statement: “That would be bad for Britain and would not be the BBC that the public has known and loved for over 90 years.”

And the BBC said the review suggested “a much diminished, less popular, BBC”.

And there is the problem, the crux of the matter — popularity.

As an organisation paid for by every licence-fee payer, does the BBC belong to us, the viewer? Does it belong to the government of the day? Or does it belong to the faceless men and women who make up the BBC Trust?

And what about all the other branches of the BBC? What about its numerous radio stations and its very comprehensive website? And what about BBC iPlayer?

Perhaps Mr Whittingdale has a point. Perhaps the BBC is spreading itself too thinly and needs to concentrate on doing one — maybe two — things well.

The owners of local newspaper websites have bitterly complained about the inherent unfairness of the BBC’s local websites basically setting themselves up in competition to their commercial rivals (although the one area that does not have a dedicated BBC website is Cheshire).

But as I see it, the real issue centres on just who decides what is “distinctive” enough to merit being part of the BBC’s output.

The BBC’s own website reports: “A passage in the Green Paper expanded on the issue, asking whether the BBC was setting itself apart from its commercial rivals.

“This does not mean that the BBC should not be entertaining; it is about the BBC providing distinctive programming across all genre types.”

The Culture Secretary said he did not intend to stop the BBC making popular shows like Strictly Come Dancing.

“For example, the BBC acquired the format for The Voice. This was a singing talent show developed overseas, bought by the BBC at a reported cost of around £20 million and similar to ITV’s The X Factor. This is in contrast to Strictly Come Dancing which was developed by the BBC in-house and then sold abroad. Questions have been raised about whether content carried on the BBC’s website is sufficiently distinctive from content that can and is being developed and delivered by others.”

So the Winchester College-educated Culture Secretary, who has worked in Whitehall and the City, is going to decide what is good enough for you and me to watch, listen to and view on the BBC’s website.

As Labour’s shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant said: “The golden thread that runs through the concept of the BBC is that we all pay in and we should all get something out, and that includes those who like opera and those who like soap opera.”