European Scrutiny CommitteeLetter from Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee (ESI 29)

Thank you for your letter of 9 October, repeating your invitation for me to appear before your Committee in connection with its review of media coverage of the EU scrutiny process.

I consider it best to decline your invitation. As I explained in our earlier correspondence, I do not think my appearance at an evidence session would add materially to the Committee’s work.

You refer in your most recent letter to comments made by a BBC witness to your inquiry earlier in the year, that the Prebble review on breadth of opinion was a matter for the Trust. Since that evidence session in February, the review, as you know, has been published, alongside the Trust’s conclusions. Again, as I said in my previous letter, I have nothing to add to the Trust’s published conclusions and cannot see that my appearance in front of the Committee would be able to add anything to what is available to all readers online.

You express puzzlement at my distinction between general comments on European coverage and specific questions about media coverage of the EU scrutiny process but these are just the sorts of questions which would involve the Trust in day-to-day operational or editorial decisions and, as I said in my prev1ous letter, that is not our role.

On the question of the Governors’ report on Europe coverage, you ask about follow-up work on the EU referendum which, at the time of that report, was a possibility and would have been on a proposed EU constitution. As you know, that referendum did not occur and the referendum proposed by David Cameron is around a different question. The BBC does voluntarily draw up guidelines for referendums which the Trust approves. That process, however, happens quite close to the referendum date because the BBC has to know the question which will be put to the electorate and the issues that have arisen in order to be able to draft guideline.

Your committee has already heard evidence from the member of BBC staff- Ric Bailey, Chief Adviser, Politics—who drafts the referendum guidelines for the BBC Executive and brings them to the Trust. As an example of this process the BBC Trust is about to consult on the guidelines for next September’s referendum in Scotland. As Ric said to the Committee in February, looking forward to any referendum in 2017: “There is a lot of water to pass under the bridge before we get there... Certa1nly, the more prominent it becomes, the more we will have to explore that.” I would not be able to add anything to what Ric has already told you.

For these reasons, I hope you will understand my decision to decline your invitation. But, of course, my offer remains of an informal briefing in the interim from the Trust’s Head of Editorial Standards if that would be helpful to the Committee.

23 October 2013

Prepared 28th November 2013