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Reith not revolution says Lords


The BBC remains a cornerstone of British life, says the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, in its new report, published today. Following its eight month inquiry, the Committee has found no need for fundamental changes to the BBC's core mission – to ‘inform, educate and entertain' - which was set out by the BBC's founder Director General, Lord Reith, around 50 years ago. Additionally, the Committee does not believe that the scale and scope of the BBC should be cut back.

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Best, said:

"The BBC is, indeed, a national treasure. It is the envy of countries all over the world and the Select Committee endorsed its role, as it has been since the days of Lord Reith, ‘to inform, educate and entertain'.

"We received no compelling evidence for a reduction in the BBC's scale and scope. Rather, the Committee sees merit in the universality of the BBC, underlining its special role of reflecting and bringing together the nations, regions and diverse communities of the UK.

"However, while we are not advocating radical change to the BBC, we do see benefit in its independent regulator, whoever that may be, holding the BBC to account through a clearer, simplified framework. The regulator should also take a lead in recommending the level of the licence fee to the Culture Secretary, and we want to see a new, more open and transparent process replacing the highly unsatisfactory "behind closed doors" practice that has previously surrounded the licence fee settlement.

"The Select Committee has no disagreement with the House of Commons CMS Committee's recommendations for new governance structures (which were not part of the Lords' inquiry). Our inquiry found evidence for the BBC's next Charter to be for a longer term, to decouple it from the General Election cycle. This would provide stability for the BBC to allow for long-term planning, as well as protecting its impartiality and independence, which the Charter Renewal process so desperately needs."

Other conclusions and recommendations made by the Committee include:

  • the BBC's regulator should conduct a root and branch review of its accountability framework, with a view to clarifying and simplifying it;
  •  the Committee has higher expectations of the BBC than of other public broadcasters, and expects it to set the gold standard amongst other PSBs;
  •  the Committee commended the World Service and the BBC's programming for children but was concerned about the funding for news and current affairs;
  • the Committee calls for the BBC to identify a set of values that will sit alongside its accountability framework, that should permeate throughout the organisation at all levels, and that should be apparent in all the content that is produced;
  •  although the Committee noted that the BBC was not a large enterprise in comparison with many global media companies, the Committee cautioned the BBC to consider its impact on other UK broadcasters before expanding its offering. The Committee also recommended the regulator should regularly monitor the position; and
  • the Committee's proposed process for setting the licence fee should take the following form: the level should be initially suggested by the BBC's independent regulator to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. If the Culture Secretary were to disagree with the proposed figure, a full list of objections should be published to create an open and transparent process that has been lacking in the Charter Renewals to date.

A YouTube video of Lord Best talking about the report, its findings and recommendations is available online.

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