A Government White Paper has resulted in a raft of new proposals
and amendments to the BBC Charter.
Most fundamentally, the Government plan to change the mission
statement of the BBC. The previous wording that the BBC must
'inform, educate and entertain' has survived 93 years, two
world wars and numerous cabinet reshuffles, but is now being
supplemented with the requirement that the BBC 'act in the
public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality
and distinctive content and services that inform, educate and
entertain.' The advocate for these changes, and leader of the
White Paper on the future of the BBC, is culture secretary John
The emphasis on the public interest element can be seen
throughout the numerous proposals. For example, the proposed new
charter would require the BBC to publish a list identifying all
employees and contractors whose earnings exceed the threshold of
£450,000 per year. The format of this list will include
categories of earnings which each person falls into, in what
Whittingdale calls "broad bands" of income. This is aimed
at increasing transparency as to how the licence fee is spent.
Another measure which may contribute to transparency is a
requirement that the BBC publishes details of its own internal
assessment of viewer responses (known as the 'Appreciation
Index'). The reasoning behind this is so that the public and
the regulator can assess how well the BBC is serving its
In addition, Ofcom will be given the power to regulate the BBC.
This implements the recommendations originally made by Sir David
Clementi following his independent review of the BBC and is the
first time the BBC have been externally regulated. Under the
proposed new charter, Ofcom will have the power to consider
complaints about BBC content and investigate the services they
provide. They will also "have an important role in assessing
the board's performance in delivering a more distinctive
In terms of other changes to the governance of the BBC,
according to the proposals the BBC Trust should be abolished and
replaced with a new 'Unitary Board'. This would be headed
up by the existing BBC Trust Chair, Rona Fairhead. The process for
appointing members of the Unitary Board is still a contentious
issue, with BBC director general Tony Hall saying: "We have an
honest disagreement with the Government on this. I do not believe
that the appointments proposals for the new unitary board are yet
right. We will continue to make the case to government."
The White Paper also proposes that the National Audit Office
carry out regular financial audits on the BBC. A statement issued
by the BBC explained that "any further expansion of [the
National Audit Office's] role must include an explicit
exclusion for editorial decision-making; and nor is it appropriate
for the NAO to assess the value for money of the BBC's
commercial subsidiaries, as they do not spend any public
money." Whether Whittingdale will take heed on this remains to
be seen, but it is clear that it will be a point of heavy
negotiation and, possibly, dispute.
As amended, the Charter also obliges the BBC to "carefully
consider any potential undue negative impacts of its scheduling
decisions" but it stops short of prescribing any scheduling
requirements as was feared, in relation to scheduling big shows
against rival shows on competitor channels. The proposed Charter
states that the "...government is clear that it cannot and
indeed should not determine either the content or scheduling of
programmes. And schedule clashes are clearly not the responsibility
of one particular operator in the market" however the
expectation is that the BBC will act in the best interests of
viewers and take the scheduling of other channels into account when
deciding when to show certain programmes.
Further, the proposals include a £20 million fund to be
made available to commercial companies making programmes for
children or black or ethnic minorities, extending the length of the
Charter by one year but with a break halfway through to act as a
'health check' and a requirement that the BBC make its
content portable so that licence fee payers can access BBC content
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