The Government’s white paper on the future of the BBC was published today and the BBC is to be duly eviscerated…..oh, no, in fact not much will change in the end and the BBC is in fact pretty happy, as it should be, with the deal.
Let’s deal with Peter Kosminsky first…he’s a bit of a drama queen and wildly over the top in his attacks on Whittingdale and was entirely wrong about the whole process…Whittingdale was never going to ‘eviscerate’ the BBC and he made that quite clear in several speeches.
Kosminsky was on 5Live with Peter Allen and was raving about the Unitary Board that will replace the Trust…apparently this will be packed wiith political placemen who will control the editorial direction of the BBC, the Board will be stuffed with people who think just as the government does. This is ‘really, really scary’.
Trouble is that’s complete bunk…8 of the Board’s members will be chosen by the BBC, 6 by the government…and it has no control over the editorial direction of the BBC…which Kosminsky would know if he had actually listened to the speech by Whittingdale…
So the new Charter will create a unitary board for the BBC that has a much clearer separation of governance and regulation. The board will be responsible for ensuring that the BBC’s strategy, activity and output are in the public interest and accord to the missions and purposes set out in the Charter.
Editorial decisions will remain the responsibility of the Director-General – and his editorial independence will be explicitly enshrined in the Charter – while the unitary board will consider any issues or complaints that arise post-transmission.
And for the first time, the BBC will have the ability to appoint a majority of its board independently of government. This is a major change, as previously the BBC Governors, and then the members of the BBC Trust, were all appointed by government.
Kosminsky went on to tell us the BBC’s role was to speak truth to power on behalf of the public…trouble is the BBC doesn’t represent the Great British Public, it represents a very small group that thinks of itself as an elite that should govern without the trouble of having to be elected….so much for representing the public.
Curiously I heard a BBC guest this morning talking on a different subject but by coincidence state that the BBC is not driven by public opinion and if it were it would be a very different BBC. No kidding.
In contrast to the excitable Kosminksy there was the BBC’s very own James Purnell in the studio as well who was pretty much purring as he digested the fact that the BBC has got away with it, not just got away with it but come out on top with a very good deal.
Before Whittingdale’s speech Peter Allen had on one Professor Patrick Barwise from the London Business school whom you might have thought the BBC would have brought on to be an independent voice of reason and calm discussion. Far from it. He is very pro the BBC and was in fact employed by the BBC to run up an ‘independent’ report for them and in his own writing openly expresses support for the BBC…
Our research suggests that cutting the BBC licence fee would reduce consumer choice and value for money, as well as greatly damaging UK programme producers.
We believe that without the BBC, the UK television industry’s revenue would most likely be lower.
Our analysis suggests that although scaling back the BBC would not be as bad as abolishing it, it would still have a detrimental effect on UK viewers and producers. within a generation the BBC will be reduced to a minor sideshow, the UK equivalent of PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States.
On the programme he ranted that we had ‘a secretary of state who was very hostile to the BBC and who was ideologically inclined to take it apart in the interests of commercial media companies’…he also dismissed DV as ‘The Blogger’, as did Peter Allen. So over-the-top was Barwise that Allen actually had to step in and say Whittingdale was not here to defend himself. Ian Hislop came on to give us his two penneth worth for what they were worth…not that much I should say. Apparently the government had been publicly trumpeting a lot of very bad ideas that it then withdrew almost immediately…and he hoped, they will now bin them all. So at least we know where the BBC stooge stands if we didn’t before. Guaranteed another season of HIGNFY then.
So what is all the fuss about? Is the BBC to be eviscerated? Or has it been handed a lifeline that keeps it afloat and indeed launches it into a very secure future?
What are the onerous demands placed upon the BBC?
It must be impartial in its news and current affairs…yes, well, that is perhaps asking a lot…..’by making it clear in the organisation’s overall mission for the first time. This will make sure the BBC remains the most trusted provider of high quality news for audiences in the UK and abroad. ‘
It must support diversity…no problem there.
It must support the creative industries…and all programming, except news and current affairs, will be put out to tender…so Hall’s bluff about the BBC being the essential hub of a creative Britain has been called….’the BBC should proactively seek to enhance, bolster and work in partnership with the wider broadcasting and creative industries.’
The BBC must support local media in the interests of furthering democracy…not sure letting the BBC having influence over local media is in the interests of democracy.
The BBC must produce programming that has quality and innovation at its heart….programmes that are of ‘high public value’ and which are ‘distinctive’ in nature…..“Commissioning editors should ask consistently of new programming: ‘Is this idea sufficiently innovative and high quality?’ rather than simply ‘How will it do in the ratings?'”
The BBC has always been keen to hear the views of the National Audit Office and now it has a chance to feel the benefit up close and personal...’.The NAO will become the financial auditor of the BBC and have the power to conduct value for money investigations of the BBC’s activities, with appropriate safeguards for editorial matters.’
The good, and expert, Professor Barwise, in his ‘analysis’ after the speech, stated that the license fee would not go up….and yet Whittingdale quite clearly stated it would go up in line with inflation…
The licence fee has been frozen at £145.50 since 2010. We will end this freeze, and will increase the licence fee in line with inflation to 2021-22, at which point there will be a new settlement. In line with the other reforms to funding announced last July, this means that the BBC will have a flat-cash settlement to 2021-22.
This gives the BBC the certainty and funding levels it needs to deliver its updated mission and purposes. And it will ensure the BBC will remain one of the best-funded public service broadcasters in the world, receiving more than £18 billion from 2017-18 to 2021-22.
The Charter will last 11 years to take it out of the political cycle but will have a mid-term check.
The license fee funding system will also remain for 11 years at least and the iPlayer will now only be watchable with a licence.
Ofcom will also get a bigger role in regulating the BBC….
Ofcom has a proven track record as a regulator of media and telecoms. It is the right body to take on external regulation of the BBC.
We will require Ofcom to establish new operating licences for the BBC – with powers to ensure its findings are acted upon. Ofcom will also take charge of regulating the distribution framework and fair trading arrangements for the BBC. It will be a strong regulator to match a strong BBC.
At present Ofcom cannot hear complaints about BBC impartiality and accuracy and it is the BBC Trust that not only judges on editorial matters and complaints on them but also approves BBC editorial standards and so there is a conflict of interest as they sit on judgement on themselves.
Whittingdale doesn’t set out the exact process for complaints merely saying…‘The complaints system will undergo long overdue reform.’ However the Report by Sir David Clement on which this white paper is mostly based suggests a BBC first approach where the complaint goes to the BBC first and if not answered satisfactorily Ofcom can be appealed to or can itself step in if it thinks the case warrants early intervention in order to speed up the process.
Overall not much will really change as even the BBC admits….’For an exercise billed as a far-reaching reform, what’s striking about the white paper is how little will change fundamentally.’ The BBC has come out of this review rather well with guaranteed independence, a licence fee linked to inflation and more cash from the iPlayer and a more hands-off approach from the politicians with the Charter given an 11 year lease of life. The new Unitary Board won’t rock the boat, especially with so many of the BBC’s own appointees on board, and Ofcom will be a minor fly in the ointment for the BBC.
On a final note, Labour’s Maria Eagle was entirely graceless, ill-judged and misinformed in her response to to Whittingdale’s speech loudly claiming that he was involved in some right-wing stitch up with the Press to do down the BBC…the echoing silence in the House said much about what the MPs thought of her conspiracy theory as they had just listened to the man himself lay out the very good terms of business he proposes for the BBC’s long term future.
Labour, as always, desperate to make some political point scoring and yet have had the rug pulled from under them as the much trumpeted ‘evisceration’ of the BBC has not happened leaving Labour high and dry with nothing to complain about as Whittingdale notes himself…
“[Eagle] rehearsed all her lines of attack only to wake up this morning to discover that all the concerns she expressed were based on ill-founded hysterical speculation by leftwing luvvies and others,” he said. “In actual fact what the government has proposed has been widely welcomed by, amongst others, the BBC.”