16 December 2004
New Report: A public BBC
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee publishes its First Report, A public BBC, (HC 82) today, Thursday 16 December 2004, at 11am in the Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
The Chairman of the Committee, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP said today: “After thorough discussion, the Committee has agreed a unanimous report. We do not believe that the status quo is an option for the BBC. Our recommendations are aimed at assisting the development of proposals that will take a strong and independent BBC, but also an accountable, open and efficient BBC, into what is an uncertain future for broadcasting .”
The current review of the BBC’s Royal Charter is possibly the most significant in the Corporation’s history. As Britain prepares to ‘go digital’ we examined whether the BBC, in the face of this challenge, requires a charter for change or a strategy for stability. We looked at four main issues: the BBC’s constitution; its funding; the Corporation’s accountability and responsiveness; and its scope and remit. We make 38 recommendations and these can be summarised as follows:
The BBC should be placed on a statutory basis by Act of Parliament at the earliest opportunity. However, time should be allowed for comprehensive pre-legislative scrutiny and we therefore recommend an interim Charter be granted for an initial period of 5 years.
The BBC Governors should be reconstituted completely independently of the Director General and the rest of the executive to look after the regulation of the Corporation and maintain its independence. It should meet in public except where commercially confidential matters are being discussed. Corporate governance should be supervised, along the lines set out in the Combined Code on Corporate Governance, by a new management board augmented by non-executive directors.
Ofcom should be granted ex ante competition powers over the BBC’s commercial activities, along similar lines as apply to the commercial broadcasters, but otherwise the relationship between the BBC and Ofcom should stay the same.
The licence fee, due to the lack of viable and credible alternatives, should remain in place with more concessions offered and increased efforts to eliminate anomalies in those currently available. We do not anticipate another above-inflation settlement after the end of the current deal in 2006-07.
Non-payment of the licence fee should be decriminalized; becoming a civil matter (with the introduction of fixed penalty notices as an interim measure).
Top-slicing the licence fee, to fund PSB provision from any body other than the BBC should be rejected. We cannot support Ofcom’s Public Service Publisher idea as it stands, although it merits further consideration.
Accountability and responsiveness
The BBC must grasp the nettle of the efficiency and effectiveness of its core spending on programme production.
The BBC should continue to seeks the views of the public, and make renewed efforts with regard to teenagers and young adults, and report on the results within its annual reporting.
A new culture of openness and transparency at the BBC, and rigour amongst the Governors, is needed, leading to a renewal of the Corporation’s reporting on its performance.
Scope and remit
The BBC should be a provider of content across all platforms, including online, within clear public service parameters. It should pursue its ‘Freesat’ and ‘Creative Archive’ initiatives and should strengthen its regional broadcasting commitment.
The DCMS should establish a forum to consider the implications of digital rights management in the modern media environment.
The BBC should renew its duty to provide educational and informative programming. Genres such as arts and religion should not be shunted into digital ghettos.
BBC Three and Four should be kept as targeted channels and not recast as clones of BBC One and Two. The Government should consider the case for a television version of the radio World Service.
The BBC should retain its commercial subsidiaries but should compete on fair term with the profits used to the benefit of its public service broadcasting.
The nine o’clock watershed should be kept but potentially offensive programmes should be signposted.
The BBC should substantially increase its quotas for independent production across its services but fostering new, distinctive and independent voices around the UK should be a requirement of the BBC.
The BBC should publish a strategy for promoting UK film in concert with the UK Film Council.
The Government should take more active steps to promote public awareness of digital switchover and set out a clear timetable for the change.