Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 504)



  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 framework—i.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 organisation—and looking at the BBC, believed to be the nation's most important broadcaster—facing 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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 April 2002