Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 435 - 439)



  Chairman: Sir Christopher, we welcome you and your colleagues to the Committee. As always, we are very pleased to see you.

Mr Fraser

  435. What types of public service broadcasting do you believe are best provided by the BBC?
  (Sir Christopher Bland) Other than in the most general terms, the definition of "public service broadcasting" is, as the Committee is aware, a difficult and elusive matter. It is defined in broad general terms by our Charter and in somewhat more detail in our Agreement with the Secretary of State. First, through what media should public services be delivered? Television, radio, the Internet and, related to all those, interactive services, are the main media that we can see at the moment as the appropriate vehicles for delivering public service broadcasting. How does one define it? One defines it by a mixture of things: remedying the deficiencies of the market, supplying services that the market would not otherwise provide; encouraging the creative industries of the United Kingdom through commissioning radio, television and Internet production in-house through the provision of the largest creative group in Europe in radio, television and perhaps online; providing a universal service which is defined in terms of broadcasting and tries to reach parts of the audience that are either under-served or not served at all by our commercial competitors. Last but not least, it is defined by the provision of programmes that not only remedy market deficit but also are really innovative and distinct. Those are some, but not all, of the tests that I believe should be applied in deciding whether a genuine public service is being offered.

  436. In your unique position you not only pride yourself in being the premier public service broadcaster but I understand that you show total impartiality in terms of the reporting that you carry out. That is correct, is it not?
  (Sir Christopher Bland) Yes. Incidentally, it is a requirement on all public service broadcasters that they should be impartial.

  437. Recently, a good number of criticisms have been levelled against the BBC. I do not refer to the correspondence between us about a particular issue we have had.
  (Sir Christopher Bland) And are still having.

  438. Indeed. Do you admit that there are occasions when the BBC just gets it wrong?
  (Sir Christopher Bland) Yes. It would be astonishing if a broadcaster the size of the BBC did not get it wrong sometimes. One of the key roles of the Governors is to emphasise within the BBC that the important thing to do when the BBC gets it wrong is to admit it and take corrective action within the organisation to make sure that it does not happen again. But the BBC will always get things wrong. Although that happens relatively infrequently, it does occur.

  439. Therefore, when the inevitable happens and it gets things wrong should it regulate itself?
  (Sir Christopher Bland) The White Paper suggests that in the first instance—this must be so with all major organisations—the remedy must be the organisation itself. All organisations need proper complaints procedures. The Committee is only too well aware of those procedures. The final backstop within the Corporation is an independent programme complaints unit and then the Governors' sub-committee. That is the final court of appeal within the BBC. Outside the BBC, the final backstop for complaints about fairness, decency, bad language and the vast majority of complaints—in terms of the White Paper they do not include complaints about political impartiality—is the Broadcasting Standards Commission and, in future, OFCOM.

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Prepared 23 February 2001