Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1680
TUESDAY 10 JANUARY 2006
Lord Carter of Coles
What concerns me is whether it is possible to have your concept
of public diplomacy and independent reporting standing side by
side. The Review Team recommends the definition of public diplomacy
as "work aiming to inform and engage individuals and organisations
overseas in order to improve understanding of and influence for
the United Kingdom in a manner consistent with governmental medium
and long term goals." No media organisation I have ever worked
for quite has that as a shield over the board table.
Lord Carter of Coles: To me this is probably
the most interesting point in the whole review. On the one hand
you have got public money, you have got £225 million of public
money, and on the other hand you have the absolute necessity to
preserve the independence of the BBC. How do you balance those
two things? Government is accountable to Parliament, it has to
come and explain how it has spent the money; to be able to say
we will just give the money and there is no accountability is
a difficult position, so it is trying to keep that balance, to
keep the editorial independence and integrity of the thing but
at the same time actually be accountable.
We all agree it is a difficult balance, but you do not feel that
putting it under, for example, a Public Diplomacy Board or having
a Public Diplomacy Board involved actually gives the appearance
to the outside world that the World Service has ceased to become
an entirely independent service?
Lord Carter of Coles: There is already a Public
Diplomacy Strategy Board and that has worked for some time; I
do not think there has been any negative effect in perception
terms in the world because of that. No, I do not think that is
Chairman: Thank you. Lady O'Neill.
Q1682 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
In many formulations you speak about Government medium and long
term goals, and I think there was a time when a document on public
diplomacy would have talked about the long term goals and interests
of the United Kingdom, but not of the Government. I found this
a curious transition between public diplomacy and then government
policy in the medium and long term. Was that intentional? If so,
what were the reasons behind it?
Lord Carter of Coles: I do not want to stray
into a constitutional point, but the sense is that it is a question
of accountability for the money for Ministers is the line I was
going down, and therefore the accountability to Parliament is
Government and that is the way the reporting line in simple terms
for me goes. That is why I expressed it in that way.
Q1683 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
What I would have expected would be a statement of accountability
for the long term interests, perception, influence of the United
Kingdom rather than the long term perception and influence of
the Government of the day in the United Kingdom. This seems to
me actually quite constitutionally fundamental and fully compatible
with serious lines of accountability. It is something that for
me jars repeatedly in that.
Lord Carter of Coles: Possibly we would have
a different view, but to my understanding the Government is accountable
for the money. I am following the money argument more than anything
else, the accountability for the £225 million, how does it
go and if this money is properly spent or it has to go to the
PAC to be explained or whatever. That is the line it will travel
down, so in a sense the Government is accountable for those policies
in the long term.
Q1684 Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve:
That is a different accountability, that is accountability of
the Government for what it does, whereas this appears to be, in
public diplomacy, being held accountable to the Government for
pursuing its long term goals. The Government is the representative
of the United Kingdom at a time, but not for all time, so this
is a curious addition in my mind.
Lord Carter of Coles: Obviously, I take a slightly
different view and think that that is the line of accountability.
At any one moment in time we have a Government to be accountable
and there is not anybody else. It is that accountability I was
Are you saying the two mean the same, the Government and the United
Kingdom in the way that you are looking at it?
Lord Carter of Coles: Yes, at that moment.
Chairman: Thank you. Lord King.
Q1686 Lord King of Bridgwater:
Did you give any consideration that the Board should not be chaired
by a minister?
Lord Carter of Coles: Yes. We discussed that
at some length and why we came down on the balance for having
a minister chairing it was again back to this question actually
of accountability, that it was better to have somebody there who
was in the driving seat and clearly accountable. It was something
we discussed for a long time.
Q1687 Lord King of Bridgwater:
You have the BBC World Service of course and you have the BBC
with £3 billion worth of public money from the citizen. No
minister ever runs the strategic board for the BBC.
Lord Carter of Coles: That is correct, but this
is from separate funds, this is Foreign Office money which is
actually given to the Foreign Office by the Treasury for the pursuit
of the financing
Q1688 Lord King of Bridgwater:
That is an embarrassment because the great strength of the BBC
is it can claim that it is totally independent and it is objective.
This is not party political, it is about the political government
of the day and that is its great strength, and that is why it
is widely admired around the world. It seems to me that we are
actually reinforcing a suggestion that a minister should tighten
up on what you state is really a managerial solution, tighten
up on that and put a minister in charge. If the minister is responsible
for the administration of the money ultimately, as you say accountable,
then he who pays the piper is deemed to receive; if something
goes wrong and if there are objections to the view the BBC has
taken, very quickly it will be attributed to the fact that there
is political intervention.
Lord Carter of Coles: I would hope that would
not be the case, it is certainly not the intention.
Q1689 Lord King of Bridgwater:
I am sure it is not the intention.
Lord Carter of Coles: It is something that I
can see. I can see having a board which questions things, but
I cannot actually see how it would intervene.
Chairman: I would like to bring Lord
Armstrong in because we are slightly straying into his bailiwick
at the moment.
Q1690 Lord Armstrong of Ilminster:
It is really following on the point that Lord King was making.
Having this board, chaired by a minister, and having the BBC World
Service sitting on the board with full membershipis there
not a great danger of that prejudicing the independence of the
World Service? They will be sitting there on the board, chaired
by a minister, much less able to assert and maintain its independence
and its freedom from pressure from the Government than it is under
the present arrangements. Why do we not have an arrangement whereby
the minister is accountable to Parliament for the amount of money
it grants to the BBC World Service but the BBC World Service is
then accountable as an independent body for the way it spends
that money, whether it is to the National Audit Office or whether
it is direct to the minister. This seems to be a strange extra
wheel on the coach. It is not clear to me how the concept of the
board fits in with the concept of independence of the World Service
if you have the FCO as chairman of the board and the BBC World
Service sitting as a member of the board, not summoned to talk
to it or to observe or anything, but actually as a member.
Lord Carter of Coles: Actually, if I may, the
proposal is that they are observers. We discussed this with the
BBC and the BBC made that point and we accepted it totally, that
they should be observers in fact and enjoy that status so they
could be there to share and discuss the strategy but they were
not actually in any way bound by the board.
Q1691 Lord Armstrong of Ilminster:
They are not bound by the board?
Lord Carter of Coles: No, absolutely not, that
is why they are there as observers, to deal with that point.
What does an observer mean? If I turn up as an observer to a board,
what do I do? I do not talk unless I am spoken to or what?
Lord Carter of Coles: It depends how the chairman
wants to run it, My Lord Chairman. The whole purpose of the board
and really my main thrust of the report is that there should be
more joining up strategically, there should be some better alignment
of priorities; I think, frankly, everybody agreed with that. That
is something which came from the World Service and this is a further
step in that. The way I see this happening is that the BBC would
come to the board, they would make a point, somebody would discuss
whether or not to increase resources going into the Arab World,
into Iraq or somewhere like that, and if the British Council was
going to be doing more, the World Service would discuss whether
it would be and the FCO would be talking about it, how do we actually
gather together our resources, and so we have the benefit of leveraging
them collectively as opposed to doing it separately. That is the
Q1693 Lord Peston:
Just a little clarification because I really was surprised by
your answer to Lady O'Neill in particular, but also to Lord King.
In the sentence we have got before us, where you refer to "in
order to improve understanding of and influence for the United
Kingdom ..." it seems to me that there can be no argument
about that as an objective, but you add on "in a manner consistent
with ..." If you were to ask some of us we would say the
BBC using public money to improve understanding and influence
of the United Kingdom is precisely through its independence. The
moment you add "in a manner consistent with ..." you
are actually contradicting yourself, and that is what you did
not seem to me to deal with when you were answering Lady O'Neill
and, for that matter, Lord King. It would seem to me again on
the board that the one thing the Government should say to itself
is we had better not chair that board, rather the other way round.
Can you clarify that?
Lord Carter of Coles: The issues really for
me I suppose were where, how, what? The what, the BBC says, is
guaranteed absolutely editorial independence, nobody has ever
questioned that. The question of where, in other words which countries
they put their resources into is something which is a bona fide
reason for discussion with the FCO and the prioritisation which
has to be done in that way. The question also of how, to whom
if you likein other words are we going to deal with this
through radio or through television, are we going to do it through
the internet or other electronic mediathat is a discussion
which it is quite proper that the FCO should hold with the BBC
or, in similar terms, with the British Council. There is an important
difference between the absolute freedom of the BBC to say what
it wishes to say, but the point about the rest of it is to have
a discussion about those other two points.
Q1694 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Returning, if I may, to the definition of diplomacy that you gave,
and obviously explaining it all to be within the editorial situation,
when you were actually looking at this situation were you in any
way concerned that the FCO had either too much or too little influence
in the role they play?
Lord Carter of Coles: Yes to both, and I will
explain why. In terms of strategic influence, first of all, probably
too little in the sense of discussing with its partners where
the resources should be deployed; in terms of anything to do with
content, none at all. I could not find anywhere that the FCO had
actually tried with the BBC to influence content at all, so there
was none there but too little in terms of actually giving a clear
and strategic role to which countries and particularly which media
Q1695 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
You would not have regarded that as too much interference?
Lord Carter of Coles: No. Inevitably, the BBC
is a strong organisation after all and it is strong enough to
engage in a debate with the FCO. It has done so continuously,
has held its corner and has done extremely well, and I think the
way it is set up is designed to do that. It works very well in
You have said we should gather together our resources and look
at a particular area. That does seem to indicate that you regard
the World Service as one part of the resource that the Government
can put in a particular area.
Lord Carter of Coles: It is interesting, but
I am not sure the BBC's interests and the Government's are dissimilar.
If we look at the move by the BBC into Arab television, it would
seem that the interests of the BBC and the interests of the Government
are synonymous and so they have acted together in that sense.
The money does come from the Treasury to the FCO with the intent
of improving the image of Britain in various places, and it is
important to understand whether the money is being spent to deliver
what we are setting out to deliver, which is a positive perception
of this country. If you are looking, for example, at a country
like Pakistan, I think it is important to understand which things
are working well from the £600 million we spend on public
diplomacy. It may well be, for instance, that the BBC spend is
particularly effective and more resources should be given to the
BBC for that particular country. That is the sort of direction
in which I was trying to take this, so it is about resources backing
up things that work.
It also has something to do with reputation, does it not, as well?
The World Service has a reputationyou mentioned at one
stage at page 28, the Voice of America. I would have thought there
is a big contrast, frankly, between the BBC World Service and
the Voice of America in as much as the BBC speaks with authority.
It is really the ability to cover news objectively from which
Britain, I suppose, might get some advantage.
Lord Carter of Coles: That is absolutely right.
If you just look at the trust ratings between Voice of America
and the BBC it is absolutely clear the great benefit we have got.
I think the only country I could see where the trust ratings were
similar was Indonesia, and all foreign broadcasters into Russia
where the trust ratings were the same.
Q1698 Bishop of Manchester:
Just exploring a little bit further and looking at the issue of
China, the fact is as we know that China constantly jams any broadcasts
which come from this country, and we have no idea when that may
alter if it ever will alter. Were you satisfied though that the
BBC has got the kind of preparedness in terms of back-up technologically
and financially to be able to get fast into that market if the
situation arose that such broadcasting was available, or would
there be a bit of a vacuum which might enable other broadcasters
to get in?
Lord Carter of Coles: It is interesting in China.
There has been a proliferation of satellites going in where people
are picking up the BBC, though it is probably not recognised by
the authorities, and I think there are 2000 TV stations in China
which may provide some way to do this. The example of Iraq is
a very good one for the BBC, who actually did manage to get into
Iraq very, very quickly and to actually be a very positive force
in that country. They can respond but I think China, with 2000
TV stations, would be a very big and difficult market and the
jamming is set to continue, both in terms of TV and of course
on the internet. They do seem to have the most efficient firewalls
in the world.
Q1699 Bishop of Manchester:
Given the influence of China in that whole area, to be able to
get in there one day would presumably be a very good example of
the BBC and the United Kingdom Government working together.
Lord Carter of Coles: Absolutely, that is very
important, but it is also interesting that the BBC on the other
hand has not discontinued its Japanese service some years ago.
It is this point of continual reprioritisation.