Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 1 is attached, addressing the questions raised by the Select Committee



1.  What should be the main duties of public service broadcasters?

  Public service broadcasting is about a relationship with the viewer/listener that stimulates participation, interest and community. It is at its most effective when the wide range of the intended audience can fully engage with the output.

  The definition "inform, educate and entertain" remains a valuable indicator of content, but there is little that reflects the wider aims of public service broadcasting on a statutory level. The risk is that in codification, public service broadcasting will be reduced to a recipe of so-called less popular genres defined in statute. In this context, the "soul" of psb is in danger of being lost along with its duty to engage or surprise the listener or viewer, reflect the world in which we live and broaden horizons.

2.  Are the core public purposes of BBC services, as defined in the Green Paper, appropriate?

  There is rightly a great emphasis on culture, but little clarity about what this includes. If sport is culture, then what about religion? The cultural mandate should be to portray the prevailing cultures and other cultures inclusively. The prevailing cultures should reflect not just present-day understandings of multiculturalism, but also the nation's Judaeo-Christian heritage. The balance must be right between showcasing creative talent, nurturing, training etc and the public purposes of inclusion, creating community, cohesion and education.

  The role of religion and the faith communities in fostering social cohesion, their contribution to local and national community life and the role of religion in fostering diversity in society must not be overlooked. An understanding of the role that religion plays in society should form an essential component of public service broadcasting output Indeed, it seems sensible that s260 (6) of the Communications Act, which of course did not exist when the 1996 Agreement was written, should be reflected quite closely in the Agreement's wording. For example, we believe under 3.2 (b) in the 1996 Agreement, in the section "Programme Content," the words "and religious" should be inserted in the section after the word "cultural" in the phrase "cultural activity in the UK," and, in (e) we would ask that "religion" be retained. We do not think that "education" will meet the issues raised in our paper.

3.  How do you see the BBC's role as a world, national and regional broadcaster?

  The BBC's role can never be seen in isolation from other broadcasters or the wider broadcasting landscape. Within the UK, it should strive to be a focus of excellence and a provider of trusted content. It must both reflect and help to shape culture, but never in a manner that is not earthed in the cultural realities of its audience. It should not impose its own culture or its own cultural preconceptions on others.

  Internationally, the BBC is a trusted source of impartial information and this should continue and develop. However, it is important that the BBC does not inadvertently export an image of the UK at variance with the reality as lived in local communities across the country.

  We see the BBC continuing to have a substantial in-house programme-making facility. Whilst we welcome the development of an independent production-making facility in religious programming which will encourage a lively and creative market place, we believe that without a properly resourced and staffed in-house religious affairs department to act as a centre of expertise to infuse and inform all programmes, the greater understanding of the faith communities outlined in our submission will not be possible.

4.  Should one of the conditions of the new licence fee settlement be that the BBC play a leading role in the process of switching Britain over from analogue to digital television?

  The principle of promoting 100% digital coverage is vital to the prevention of digital exclusion. This could be accomplished by a variety of means, including the involvement of the BBC in leading the process.

  Clarity is needed about to what extent the licence fee is expected to cover the costs associated with this additional purpose, or whether Government funding will be available for (say) providing set top boxes to low income groups.


5.  Is a Royal Charter the best way to establish the BBC? Is 10 years the most appropriate period for the next Royal Charter to run? Is there a case for establishing the BBC on a statutory footing?

  The key requirements of independence from Government and stability without stagnation are met by a Charter. A statutory basis might make the BBC more vulnerable to political whim. In relation to the changing landscape of broadcasting, the BBC needs stability, direction and clear purpose. Ten years is the minimum term for a Charter that offers these.

  The proposed BBC Trust might be better placed than the Governors to have the power to seek an extension or review of a Charter at an earlier or later time, say up to two years early or four years late. This might provide additional stability and the possibility of emerging directions or new projects bedding down before future Charter Renewals or reviews.


6.  Is the proposal in the Green Paper to replace the BBC Governors with a BBC Trust and Executive Board the best way to address the issues of governance and regulation of the BBC?

  There must be better separation between governance and management. The Trust proposal achieves this. The BBC plays a unique role in national life. We therefore think there is nothing anomalous in having unique governance arrangements, which although they should contain the key features of all good governance—accountability and transparency for instance—do not have exactly to mirror the governance of other organisations, public or private.

7.  Is the role of the proposed BBC Trust sufficiently clear? How should the Trust be constituted? How can it be made accountable to licence fee payers?

  Accountability: The Trust should guarantee the delivery of what is promised in the service licences. The service licences should therefore comprehensively outline what is expected from each BBC service. A balance should be struck between holding meetings in public and the discussions that it is only possible to have in private.

8.  How should the rights of licence fee payers be defined and protected? How should the BBC handle complaints?

  The rights of licence fee payers could be set out in the service licences. Complaints need to be handled consistently, transparently and rigorously.

9.  Are the measures proposed in the Green Paper sufficient to protect the independence of the BBC from outside pressure and to ensure that BBC broadcasts are accurate and impartial?

  Yes. Faith communities believe that the Charter is the best guarantee against political pressure. The licence fee is the best guarantee against commercial pressure. There is a risk that making the Trust responsible for impartiality and accuracy is replicating the present position of the Governors. The Trust's role ought to be to consider, impartially, questions referred to it about accuracy and impartiality as a regulator, not a management group.

10.  Are the current arrangements for the scrutiny of the BBC's spending by the National Audit Office adequate?

  Yes, if the Trust has powers to commission investigations into value for money.


11.  Are the Green Paper's proposals to regulate the BBC's impact on competition adequate? Should Ofcom be responsible for approving the BBC's internal rules governing their commercial businesses?

  Ofcom should be a statutory consultee as should the DTI, but the impact on competition rules should be a matter for the BBC Trust.


12.  Should there be a further review of alternatives to the licence fee and if so when?

  The present review has concluded, against the expectations of many, that the licence fee is viable for the time being and that the alternatives postulated have significant downsides. Circumstances either need to change radically or new and viable alternatives found before a consideration of all the options, including retention of the licence fee, are reconsidered. A further review in 10 years' time might be appropriate, if there are new options to consider or other factors post switch-off.

13.  How can the plurality of Public Service Broadcasting be safeguarded in the digital age?

  The significant challenge arises from the preponderance of digital output that is not produced as public service broadcasting and is not aimed at fulfilling a specified remit, although it remains to be seen what the viewing habits of late adopters of digital technology become.

  Although Ofcom has asserted that some output from purely commercial digital channels fulfils public service purposes, this is entirely ad hoc and could just as easily double as disappear. It cannot be counted towards the measurement of psb without significantly weakening, not strengthening, psb.

  Plurality between the BBC channels alone does not create plurality of provision. This is an area of public policy that is likely to require further development. Attention should be given to what incentives can be developed to create enduring public service expectation and delivery from a wide range of channels.

  The maintenance of the plurality of public service broadcasting, which is such a rich contributor to our heritage and plays such a vital part in our national life, is a crucial matter of public policy. If lost, it cannot be rekindled. Market, consumer and economic forces will not sustain it; indeed, as has been seen in recent times, they argue strenuously against it. Public policy must safeguard public service broadcasting and find diverse and plural means of preserving it whilst delivering it in innovative and contemporary ways.


14.  What is the best way to ensure the BBC gives independent and external television and radio producers a fair chance to get their ideas commissioned? Should there be mandatory quotas for external commissioning?

  Independent production is an important tool for maintaining a plurality of approaches to psb programmes and avoiding an overbearing sameness in "house style." A system of open competition between in-house and independent production has the drawback of creating uncertainties about what level of independent production can be sustained in the marketplace. Too much variation year to year risks far greater uncertainty than many independents except for the largest could sustain. A mixed system of mandatory quotas and open competition might offset this.

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