Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
TUESDAY 5 MARCH 2002
500. I do not understand your position in the
end because the bit that Derek was asking about was the stakeholder
or shareholder role. You will always have to have that for a BBC
that is owned. I think whether you call it a trust or not is just
faffing at the edges, to be honest. The real issue is about whether
consumers are genuinely represented in the process. I cannot see
that OFCOM is more likely to deliver that than a set of BBC Governors
who are genuinely independent from management.
(Ms Bradley) You are right in that there are all sorts
of issues about stakeholder involvement from our perspective of
consumer involvement in those processes, both at the level of
individual providers, the BBC and others, and at the level of
the regulator. One can debate those points and I am happy to talk
about that more if you want. The consumer interest is going to
be best served in a situation where decisions, for instance about
the placing of prime time news programmes on two primary public
service broadcasters, are being taken within the same framework.
We have had a situation twice, it now appears, and yesterday there
were news items about the possibility of ITV moving their early
evening news slot so that that will again coincide with that of
the BBC. A year or perhaps 18 months ago there were separate decisions
to move the news to 10 o'clock. Those two decisions, I would argue,
will serve consumers very badly because they will have two head-to-head
news slots, one at 6 and one at 10, on those two public service
broadcasters, but nothing in between. They have Channel 4, I know,
but I mean in relation to ITV and BBC. It is because those decisions
are being made entirely outside ITV within the context of the
regulator, in their case currently ITC, and the BBC in a different
framework altogether, that that seems to us to be a very clear
justification for having these decisions made within the same
regulatory frameworki.e. under OFCOM.
501. So you think OFCOM should decide what time
the news is on?
(Ms Bradley) No. I think OFCOM should determine the
parameters within which then the non-executive and the executive
management of those two organisations will fulfil their public
service broadcasting requirements. It is very unlikely to be about
times specifically but rather more about spread of news programming.
502. Is not the danger that if you give over
all these decisions to a body like OFCOM, which is wholly unaccountable
in the end to any ordinary person in the street, and take it away
from politicians, the whole of the broadcasting environment and
all the other issues that we are talking about will never face
up to any kind of electoral challenge?
(Ms Bradley) If the implication of that is that politicians
are making the decisions about the BBC at the moment as an alternative
to the regulator, I think that would be rather odd because that
clearly is not what the BBC themselves would say. They would say,
"We are taking the decisions ourselves and our independence
is guaranteed by virtue of our current arrangement rather than
by virtue of being in the context of a regulator". It is
our view that their decisions will be guaranteed a degree of political
independence in the context of OFCOM in a much greater way than
they might be at present. It seems to us that that is another
reason for having them within the umbrella of OFCOM. There is
an accountability question. May I just say that of course all
regulators are accountable to Parliament. I would expect and hope
that this Committee would want to question OFCOM about the way
that it was fulfilling its responsibilities from time to time.
I see that being a very important element in the public accountability
of such bodies.
503. We certainly put the ITC through hell on
the issue of News at Ten because the ITC, which we should be subsuming
into OFCOM, has the statutory power to decide the timing of news
bulletins on Channel 3 within the Broadcasting Acts. I have two
questions. Mr Bryant, who is an idealist and we need more of those
in this cynical world, talks about the BBC Governors being genuinely
independent of management. Could you, off the top of your heads,
give me, say, three examples of occasions on which the BBC Board
of Governors has either overturned a decision of management or
has rejected a proposal by management?
(Ms Bradley) I am afraid we are not party to the discussions
between the executive and the Governors.
504. Surely accountability means that these
decisions should be made publicly? After all, if these people
represent you and me, then we ought to know what they are doing.
What we do know, of course, is that when the BBC launched the
disgraceful Big Ticket campaign to promote Camelot scratch card
marketing, the Board of Governors did nothing whatever about it,
did they? It was only when there was a scandal that the thing
was overturned. I take your silence as assent.
(Ms Bradley) I think you should take our silence as
a lack of detailed knowledge.
(Ms Lennard) It is agreement on the need for accountability.
Chairman: The other question I would
like to put to you is: can you think, and you both have a wide
purview on these matters, of any other large organisationand
looking at the BBC, believed to be the nation's most important
broadcasterfacing up to the most difficult environment
it has encountered in 80 years of existence being run by a group
of people, none of whom is appointed on the basis of knowing anything
about what they are supposed to be running?
Chris Bryant: Apart from Parliament?
Chairman: Yes, but people can turn us
out. Thank you very much indeed, not only for your answers, which
have been admirable and helpful, but also for your silences.