Examination of Witnesses (Questions 435
THURSDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2001
Chairman: Sir Christopher, we welcome
you and your colleagues to the Committee. As always, we are very
pleased to see you.
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
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 instancethis must be so with all major organisationsthe
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 complaintsin
terms of the White Paper they do not include complaints about
political impartialityis the Broadcasting Standards Commission
and, in future, OFCOM.