Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1675
TUESDAY 10 JANUARY 2006
Lord Carter of Coles
Lord Carter, I apologise for keeping you waiting. The position
is that we are looking at the BBC in relationship to the charter
renewal. We have done one report, there were a number of areas
where we were not able to do justice in the first report and one
of those was the World Service of the BBC. We have with us, for
which many thanks, your review, Public Diplomacy. If I
could just ask some general questions, you say that this was an
independent review. It was staffed by the Foreign Office, as I
understand it and read it, it came from a public spending talk
between the Foreign Secretary and the Chief Secretary and you,
as we know, are a Labour peer close to the Government: how independent
is this review?
Lord Carter of Coles: I have done a number of
reviews, as you perhaps know. It is very independent, within the
confines of trying to produce something which will work, so that
is the caveat I would give. I could produce a review which was
very fundamental and basic, but was not very helpful; this is
meant to be helpful to the administration, if you like, in a non-political
sense. I think it is independent and I hope it is taken as such.
That will work in the context of the Foreign Office and how it
can be organised from there.
Lord Carter of Coles: It is more managerial
than that, I do not think there is any political dimension to
this, it does not really read in that way.
Who chose the advisers? We are obviously fascinated with what
you have to say about the FCO and the British Council, but that
is not our area; the World Service is a media organisation and
I notice that the only media representative you had as an adviser
was the Sports Editor of The Guardian. Without in any way
decrying thatwe are spending a lot of our time on sport
at the momentdo you think you would not have benefited
from a bit of media experience of the kind that, say, a foreign
correspondent like Martin Bell could have provided?
Mr Lowe: It is always difficult putting together
a team of advisers, and it is people's willingness to give their
time that is often one of the things, so you might have had a
wish list of who you would like to get. We looked around, sought
advice and talked to various people; possibly, in retrospect,
that may be right, but we did not get one.
You did not find that that was a defect.
Lord Carter of Coles: No, I have to say that
we did not find that hampering at all. We consulted a wide range
of people, we had some very good advice and we got good advice
from people who were not actually serving as advisers to the committee.
We were very well served by them in every respect.
The report itself is called Public Diplomacy, but as you
say on page 25, as I read it, "Public diplomacy is arguably
not the primary objective of the World Service . . ." That
is right, is it not, it is not the primary objective of the World
Service, the job of the World Service is to report independently
and objectively what is going on around the world, but not just
that, to be seen to be doing that?
Lord Carter of Coles: That is absolutely right.
It is the trust factor that makes it valuable in public diplomacy.
When I was first asked to do this review I spent a lot of time
looking back over the history of the BBC; one of the things that
strikes you, if you look particularly at the Second World War
and how these things were reviewed afterwards, was the fact that
they reported with integrity in good times and bad, that they
always reported the truth. For me that was a fundamental guiding
principle of that, that that had to be maintained, and from that
comes the reputation of the BBC and then the reputation of Britain,
based upon that reporting truth.