Memorandum submitted by the BBC
1. The BBC is grateful for the Select Committee's
invitation to provide written evidence for its forthcoming further
inquiry into Communications policy and the Government's plans
for a Communications Bill. In this short memorandum, the BBC will
focus on those issues identified by the Committee which appear
most directly to be concerned with the BBC, that is:
Defining and providing public service
The development and promotion of
Progress towards digital switchover;
Ensuring universal access to digital
and, in the context of other key issues which have
arisen during debate on the OFCOM Bill currently before Parliament,
the question of how the BBC is regulated and governed.
2. The BBC agrees with both the Select Committee
and the Government in seeing a continuing role for public service
broadcasting in the digital age.
3. In the debates around the Communications
White Paper and the Paving Bill, it has often been suggested that
the BBC lacks a detailed written remit or clear purposes for its
public services in the digital age. The BBC would take issue with
4. The BBC does have a very clear remit
for its UK public services, contained within its Agreement with
the Secretary of State, which is at least as detailed as any placed
upon UK public service broadcasters. The remit includes general
measures such as high quality output and editorial integrity;
requirements designed to ensure that the BBC meets the needs and
interests of audiences, for example by providing wide-ranging
sports coverage, educational programming, and children's programmes;
and specific scheduling obligations, for example through the requirement
to include an impartial account of Parliamentary proceedings in
our daily output.
5. The BBC's Governors have been able from
this to derive a clear sense of the BBC's role and responsibilities.
In his last oral evidence to the Committee, the previous Chairman
identified a number of public service criteria which the BBC's
output should seek to fulfil, namely:
Universality B Programming which
is available and accessible to everyone, free at the point of
delivery, and which provides something for everyone.
Quality B Programming which, regardless
of genre, is of the highest quality in terms of concept, production
values, and performance.
Distinctiveness B A good public service
broadcaster needs to produce not just good programmes, but programmes
that are different from the rest of the market by finding new
genres and revitalising old ones.
Range and Diversity B The BBC needs
to cover the full range of genres B our annual report lists 22
B and to be diverse in its coverage of them. That also means ensuring
a mix of programmes across peak hours, and paying careful attention
to the scheduling of news.
Supplementing the Market B The BBC
like other public service broadcasters has a responsibility to
remedy any deficiencies in the market in terms of genre, by providing
what others either cannot or will not. But to limit any public
service broadcaster to those services not available in the market
is to guarantee public service failure.
Encouraging culture and creativity
B The BBC has an ongoing responsibility to encourage culture in
the broadest sense, to stimulate and to showcase creativity in
directing, producing, writing and performing across the whole
of the UK. This means taking risks and breaking down barriers
in ways that will sometimes fail spectacularly, and that will
sometimes extend the cultural agenda in sensational new directions.
Independence and Impartiality B The
BBC must always strive to set the highest standards of independence
and impartiality in its news and current affairs coverage, and
to deal with any complaints swiftly and effectively.
Reflecting the Nation B The BBC must
try to reflect the differing parts of our nation to the nation
as a whole, and in a devolved and multi-cultural United Kingdom,
to provide a means by which people can relate to and understand
each other at local, national, and global levels.
Support for Citizenship B The BBC
has a substantial role in supporting democratic debate on issues
of national and local significance by providing easy access to
the information that citizens need to make informed choices.
6. In addition, the Governors set out each
year a number of specific objectives for the BBC which reflect
these criteria and against which they assess the BBC's performance.
As an example, over the year 2000-2001 objectives for the Corporation
Develop proposals to deliver BBC
core purposes of creativity, citizenship and learning in the digital
Strengthen BBC One, as well as all
core TV and radio services, with a particular focus on offering
a richer mix of content.
Demonstrate improved services to
the whole of the UK as part of the BBC's ongoing response to devolution.
Deliver greater value for money for
licence payers year on year through increased efficiency and more
effective commercial activities.
Ensure the BBC serves and is valued
by currently underserved audiences, particularly the young and
minority ethnic audiences.
Improve diversity internally B to
10 per cent of staff from minority ethnic backgrounds by the end
of 2003, with an increase from 2 per cent to 4 per cent at senior
Improve openness and accountability
to all stakeholders.
7. These annual objectives are designed
to ensure that the BBC's public service remit remains at the heart
of corporate strategy, and reflect the fact that while the BBC's
public service purpose remains constant, the organisation and
its output need continually to evolve over time in order to ensure
that both remain true to their purpose.
8. As we enter the truly digital age, the
BBC continues to produce programming and schedule mixed services
in the best traditions of public service broadcasting, in ways
that engage audiences more than ever before.
9. BBC ONE remains the television flagship
channel, delivering the quintessential public service aim B making
the good popular and the popular good. Examples of the diverse
range of high quality, distinctive public service programming
on BBC ONE in the last year include Blue Planet, Space, The Way
We Live Now, Rolf on Art, Linda Green, and Son of God, all of
them broadcast in peak time. BBC TWO meanwhile has contributed
groundbreaking series such as the History of Britain, The Congo,
Band of Brothers, Marion and Geoff, Blood of the Vikings, What
the Victorians Did for Us, Islam UK and Bridges.
10. On radio, highlights of public service
broadcasting in the last year have included Melvyn Bragg's In
Our Time, debating the history of ideas and their application
in modern life; Taking a Stand in which Fergal Keane talks to
people who, out of conviction or circumstance, have taken a stand
on a significant issue; and The Irving Trial, which featured contributions
from all the protagonists in this extraordinary case, including,
for the first time ever, an interview with the judge himself.
11. Our commitment to high quality news
is also undiminished. On 11 September 33 million people accessed
BBC news services. Panorama has seen audiences rise by 9 per cent
over recent months in its new BBC ONE slot, and a year after the
introduction of the BBC Ten O'Clock News, between five and six
million viewers are turning to the service. Both Newsnight and
BBC online news services are being called on by more people than
ever before, and this autumn the BBC also launched an interactive
news service specifically for digital television viewers.
12. A key part of the BBC's strategy going
forward is to develop public service content for those who have
previously felt excluded from mainstream public service broadcasting.
Each of our planned new services seeks to add value to the BBC's
output for the nation as a whole, and to serve wide-ranging, and
in some cases under-served, audiences better than ever before:
BBC 4 will provide more extensive
coverage of the arts, sciences, history, philosophy and current
Cbeebies will bring high quality,
UK-produced education and entertainment to young children, free
CBBC will include new exciting drama,
comedy, entertainment, news and factual programmes for older children
B again, free from advertising.
Among our new radio services, Network
X will provide Black music with an emphasis on new artists, alongside
around 20 per cent speech content including news and factual programmes
for a primarily young audience.
Network Y will provide an outlet
for popular music from the BBC's archive from the 1970s to the
Network Z will bring to a broad audience
the best of new and archive comedy, drama, stories and features,
with programmes aimed at both adults and children.
Five Live Sports Extra will provide
greater choice of live sports coverage, allowing fuller exploitation
of rights belonging to the licence payer, increasing live sports
The Asian Network will become the
only national network focused entirely on the interest of Asian
audiences in the UK, providing a wide range of programmes, from
news and current affairs to entertainment and music.
The World Service will formally become
part of the BBCs UK digital radio offering for the first time.
13. When she approved most of the BBCs proposals
for new digital television and radio services, the Secretary of
State asked the BBC to come back to her with revised proposals
for BBC THREE (which was to replace the evening schedule on BBC
CHOICE). Our new proposal has now been presented to her for approval
and has been published so that others in the industry can offer
her their views. The new proposition remains focussed on the needs
of younger adult viewers, but differs considerably from our previous
It will offer a much greater commitment
to news, current affairs, education, music and the arts, which
will now account for over one third of new programming for the
It will have a greater commitment
to promoting new talent on and off screen.
It will focus more heavily on reflecting
not only every nation and region of the UK but also the multicultural,
multiethnic society that is modern Britain.
It will include much more online
and interactive support.
14. Digital television is a UK success story,
with the fastest growth in Europe, beating all expectations. While
subsidies for set top boxes from pay-TV operators have helped
drive that success, it has to be recognised that those subsidies
will not continue forever. Indeed, Sky has now withdrawn their
free box and minidish offer for non-subscribers, so that those
wishing to watch only free-to-view channels through digital satellite
are now required to pay, 215 in addition to the, 100 installation
charge. Boxes are still freely available to those subscribing
to pay-TV services, who also continue to benefit from subsidised
installation costs. Subscription packages start at, 10 a month.
However, it is clear from a number of pieces of independent research
that a large proportion of the population will not be attracted
to migrate to digital solely by the prospect of subscribing to
more pay services. DTV needs to move to become the natural way
to receive TV, available to everyone, not just for first sets
but for the second and third sets too.
15. Digital radio is very different to digital
TV, although many of the same issues apply. The digital radio
market is only just emerging, with the sale of around 40,000 receivers
so far. It is expected that this will pick up during 2002 as receivers
become available at prices between, 99 and, 199, and as car manufacturers
start fitting digital receivers as a standard feature.
16. Across both TV and radio, the BBC believes
it has a vital role to play in making digital a universal proposition
and that its new services will greatly increase the attractiveness
of the free to air TV offering and of digital radio.
17. BBC TV channels have been present on
every platform from the outset. Its interactive services B eg
Walking with Beasts and Wimbledon B are unique in using such innovative
technology to add value to public services, not for driving revenue.
They have also attracted large numbers of people into using the
interactive capability of the DTV platform B around one million
digital satellite viewers accessed our enhanced Wimbledon coverage
each day (c 20 per cent of subscribers to the platform), while
more than 1.8 million viewers of the Walking with Beasts series
used the additional interactive features at least once. Indeed,
we believe that such services have an important role to play in
driving digital take-up.
18. The BBC was the UK's digital radio pioneer,
having broadcast its existing national networks in digital form
since 1995. The launch of the new digital stations during 2002
will significantly enhance the diversity and range of services
available digitally, and act as a real driver for take-up, coinciding
with the availability of affordable receivers.
19. The BBC is also investing heavily in
marketing to drive take up and diminish consumer confusion. We
have put together a comprehensive multimedia strategy to provide
information about the full range of options for consumers. We
are currently running on-air trails for digital services which
we expect to reach 90 per cent of the adult population over December
and January, we have worked with broadcasters, retailers, manufacturers
and platform operators to produce public information leaflets,
we have launched a dedicated website which averages 25-30,000
page impressions a week, and we provide information through Ceefax
and via a BBC telephone helpline, which has already received more
than 20,000 calls.
20. Our digital promotion plan for 2002
was published last month, and our intention is to step up activity
over the year ahead. Our on air promotions, print, poster and
leaflet promotions will increase significantly, an enhanced website
and call centre service will become available, and we will continue
the joint campaigns with retailers and manufacturers. Our expectation
is that by the end of 2002, everyone will have seen at least a
21. The BBC supports the Government's attempts
to balance the universal availability of digital television services
with the aim of achieving full digital switchover.
22. Reaching the Government's timescale
for switchover of 2006-2010 will however be a challenge. Among
the measures which will support progress on this timetable are:
An acknowledgement by the Government
that the achievement of universal digital coverage will rely upon
a mixture of distribution platforms B that universal coverage
by a single platform will not be feasible within this timescale.
Genuine co-operation with the industry
on the projects in the Digital Action Plan, including spectrum
reallocation and the coverage of public services, and in the management
of the Plan itself.
A strong free-to-air offering to
provide an incentive for consumers to convert to digital.
Co-ordinated marketing to address
The development of a cheap route
to accessing free to air services only.
Switchover itself would be helped
by some measures specific to DTT.
A rolling programme of region by
region B or even transmitter by transmitter-switchover, to allow
problems to be ironed out and momentum to build, rather than relying
on a single date.
A system of analogue conversion B
migrating some DTT services to existing analogue frequencies.
This will allow the power of digital transmissions to be increased
(because analogue frequencies have international frequency clearance),
giving greater coverage to fixed aerials and portable sets. Although
this would require a clear commitment from government to reserve
some existing spectrum for this use, a policy of analogue conversion
will deliver almost universal coverage by DTT, combined with regionality
and the release of spectrum.
23. For public service broadcasters to play
their full role in the digital age, consumers must be guaranteed
continuing access to their services, no matter which digital platform
24. The BBC therefore welcomes the Government's
commitment to ensuring that public service television channels,
including all the BBCs licence-fee funded public service channels,
are available free at the point of use to every viewer. But in
addition it is essential that consumers are also guaranteed easy
access to the public services from the electronic programme guides
which they increasingly rely on, and which are operated by pay-TV
retailers. The ITC and Oftel have recognised that, notwithstanding
their current regulation of electronic programme guides, the ease
with which consumers can find the public service channels is still
dependent, to a considerable degree, upon the co-operation of
the pay-TV operators. The BBC hopes that the regulators will now
consider revising the existing regulations both to ensure their
effectiveness and take full account of developments in the four
years since they were published.
25. The BBC particularly welcomes the proposed
clarification of the Amust carry@provisions, and the Government's
support for the position that cable operators must provide such
carriage without charge to the broadcasters. We believe that the
statutory underpinning of this requirement should be flexible
enough to be applied, without further primary legislation, to
other closed distribution platforms which may emerge over the
26. As far as satellite systems are concerned
the BBC is concerned that the maintenance of the obligations on
conditional access operators of Afair, reasonable and non-discriminatory
access@ alone may not be enough to ensure that public service
broadcasters are offered all the facilities they require to ensure
that they meet the obligation to reach their customers. What is
fair and reasonable in relation to broadcasters in general may
not be sufficient in relation to public service broadcasters with
universal reach obligations and which therefore cannot walk away
from any negotiation if the terms offered are unsatisfactory.
The BBC considers that such operators should be placed under a
specific regulatory obligation to offer all such facilities to
public service broadcasters, where necessary treating them differently
from other broadcasters, in order to deliver a specific outcome
B the public policy objective of universal viewer access. We hope
that the Communications Bill will provide for such an obligation
in order to meet the Government's stated objective of the universal
availability of public service channels.
BBC GOVERNANCE AND
27. The BBC recognises that while it has
a unique role to play in the digital marketplace, it still has
to operate within that marketplace. How it is governed and regulated
therefore needs to reflect elements of its operation.
28. The aim of any regulatory framework
must be to create a level playing field in all respects in which
the BBC is analogous to other broadcasters. This is what the Government
intends and the White Paper effectively delivered, as set out
by Baroness Blackstone during the Lords Committee Stage of the
29. The BBC, like all other broadcasters,
will be subject to basic content standards, set by OFCOM (ATier
1@). Like all other public service broadcasters it will be subject
to quotas and targets agreed with OFCOM (ATier 2@), as well as
the requirement to publish Statements of Programming (ATier 3@).
Furthermore, the BBC will continue to be subject to all aspects
of competition law, in future regulated by OFCOM/OFT.
30. It is in connection with the interpretation
of the remit where most attention has focussed. Here too, however,
both ITV and the BBC will be left to interpret their own remit.
ITVs broad remit is set out in legislation, but it will interpret
this in a Statement of Programme Policies, which it will draw
up independently of the regulator. Only if it fails to deliver
over a long period could OFCOM re-impose more detailed programming
requirements. The BBCs remit is set out in the Charter. The BBC
will also interpret this through its own Statements of Programme
Policies agreed with, and monitored by, the Governors each year.
Their judgements will be reported in the Annual Report and the
BBCs accountability to Parliament will allow Members to question
the Governors' findings. If the BBC consistently fails to deliver
the public interest, the Government may seek to address such matters
through its powers over the appointment of the Governors, or by
setting more rigorous requirements in a new Charter or in a revised
31. Beyond the three tiers of formal regulation,
the BBC is unique among broadcasters in being subject to rigorous
Parliamentary regulation, and scrutiny. At the end of each Charter
period the Government can make fundamental changes to the BBCs
obligations and how it is governed. New services need Government
approval after many months of public and industry consultation
and advice from regulators. The Select Committee has held an annual
hearing on publication of the BBCs annual report B the BBC welcomes
this process and would hope to see it continue.
32. Within this framework, the BBC sees
a vital and continuing role for the Board of Governors. The Governors
are there to deliver what is unique about the BBC B its remit.
In doing so, they must allow no other consideration to come before
the public interest. OFCOM on the other hand will have many conflicting
objectives B including the promotion of commercial broadcasting.
The BBC believes that, facing these conflicting objectives, OFCOM
could not be relied upon not to bring outside interests to bear
which have nothing to do with the public interest in the BBC.
33. The challenge to the BBC and its Board
is to ensure that its unique system of governance, underpinning
the delivery of the remit, works and is seen to work. Many improvements
have been introduced over the decades. The Board is now looking
closely at how to build upon the White Paper framework to ensure
the highest standards of governance and public accountability.
17 January 2002