Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1800
WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY 2006
Q1800 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
Would there be any case for holding some of the hearings in public?
Lord Puttnam: There would. It may be better
that there should be a public annual review, an ability for stakeholdersan
awful phraseto be able to turn up and question the Content
Board on the decisions that have been made and the pressures they
find themselves working under. I have been chair of enough meetings
to know that whilst it is a lovely idea, in practice it can be
Q1801 Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
I understand that you are in favour of an annual appraisal of
the BBC or certain parts of it. Could you expand on your thoughts
on that, particularly in relation to how it would work?
Lord Puttnam: For the first five years I would
like to see a statement from the trust acknowledging the fact
that they have a tremendous amount of evidence of performance
in a number of specific areas, a lot of experience of performance
in these areas, but that there are other areas, which we tend
to refer to as public value areas in which they have a limited
ability to oversee and appraise. This is where my concept of a
peer review comes from. In those areas, they should go out and
seek really good advice. Were it me, if I were Michael Grade,
I would go along to the Institution of Education and say, "We
would like a contract with you for the next three years on a rolling
basis. You appraise our education output. Look at the intention
that lies behind it. Look at the budgetslook at the outcomes
and tell us if it is working. Are we really supporting schools
as well as we could?" It would effectively become the interface
between the measurable impact of the BBC's output on education
and the people who are making the programmes. Some very interesting
things could well begin to emerge. Nothing like this really existed.
The BBC will say quite seriously, "We talk to the education
world all the time. We have a deep relationship with the education
world." Yes, and No. If the trust would show a willingness
to acknowledge that it cannot be expert in every area and it is
prepared to take expert advice and publish that advice and back
it in the form of improved output, I would have thought the trust
would have done itself an enormous favour.
Q1802 Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen:
You do not think annually is too short a period of time?
Lord Puttnam: Personally, I would prefer a rolling
review, certainly in the case of education which is the area I
am most familiar with. So many things just do not happen annually.
What one might have is an annual report to the trust, which the
trust would then publish.
Q1803 Lord Peston:
One is very sympathetic to the examples you give but would it
not also be useful if there existed a committee like this Committee
which every year would have the BBC before it to say, "We
are very puzzled, for example, as to why you did not bid for one
of the six football packages" and things like that? Would
that also be included in your need for the BBC to explain itself
Lord Puttnam: Absolutely. There is no serious
argument for not having a permanent select committee looking at
these issues. This is an important area of public life. This Committee
is perfectly able to do it; it has the resources to do it and
it is a very good way of going about it. You are seeing Michael
Grade this week. If I were Michael Grade, I would welcome the
opportunity to explain myself to people who have the time and
the interest and who probably share my values. I have never really
understood the reluctance on the part of people in public life
to appear before select committees. It seems extraordinary to
me. When I was chair of NESTA I used to look forward to select
committee hearings because it gave a real opportunity to air your
problems and grievances. If you have a reasonably sympathetic
chairman and informed members, it is a marvellous way of getting
out into the media some of the problems that are worrying you.
Q1804 Lord Maxton:
The BBC already produces an annual report. Annually, the chairman
and the director general appear along with other members of staff
before the House of Commons select committee and answer very difficult
questions on that report. I do not think we want to run away with
the idea that nothing happens at present.
Lord Puttnam: I am not. Qualitatively, what
is likely to come from a standing committee in the House of Lords
will be somewhat different from the House of Commons committee
because your agendas are necessarily slightly different. You are
more a fan of the previous chairman than I am but I felt that
the House of Commons committee had at times unnecessarily hostile
agenda and certainly it was felt to be a hostile agenda at the
Q1805 Lord Maxton:
Not by everybody.
Lord Puttnam: No, but among people at the BBC.
That is not helpful. As chair of an organisation, again my experience
was at NESTA. Yes, you are prepared to take hostile questions
but you are also looking for support when the answers you offer
are good and valid they deserve backing. That is the reason to
be there, to seek support for the things that are most vexing.
Chairman: Lord Maxton is a well known refugee
from the Commons committee.
Q1806 Lord Kalms:
I very much enjoyed reading the speech. It is a very good insight
into the BBC and the way you described it rather amused me. I
want to come back to the theme of your speech which is about local
content. At some stage in our report will have to deal with this.
It struck me that you were being somewhat over-ambitious. You
said you felt you could fill most of the time in that local slot
with local news. I would assume that you are going to run local
news from six in the morning, say, until midnight. It seems to
me that you were talking about a few news reports downloaded from
other programmes, but would it not be more likely that you could
achieve what you wanted if you did not aim so high? I rather suspect
what you are asking is just going to be a no no, whereas we could
insist, for instance, on the BBC giving you, say, three hours
local. In other words, aim a bit lower and hopefully achieve something.
If the BBC, on the basis of low cost, had to provide three hours
locally for areas, would that not be a more likely target to achieve
rather than insisting they give a whole dedicated programme? Surely
all day locally would be a bit mind boggling? You can watch a
local football match and the local council but you are talking
about filling a lot of slots every day, seven days a week, 12
hours a day. That could be from famine to over-indulgent feast.
Lord Puttnam: There would be a lot of repeats.
I do not mean that in a negative sense at all. Take my example
of a weddings programme and let us say it is one hour. There is
no reason at all why it should not be three afternoons a week
because people do dip in and out. Many women particularly work
part time, so you schedule it to ensure that in any given week
there is a very good chance that any woman working in that locality
had an opportunity to view it. Yes, there would be quite a lot
of repeats but my concern about it being a three hour opt out
of the BBC is honestly to do with the fact that unless we try
to build this bottom up, unless you give people a chance locally
to express themselves in their own time and in their own way,
we will always get back to this national, top down concept of
what television is. "This is what we are going to do. This
is what is good for you. These are the questions we will ask you
and we will do it beautifully and professionally." I am suggesting
that there is a different form of television that you have made
possible through technology. I do not know if it will work but
I would love to see it happen in my lifetime and find out what
communities are capable of. I live in west Cork, in Ireland, and
we have an enormously thriving farmers' market. Every one of those
people has a story. We have for example a very successful cheese
maker in west Cork. We come together on a Saturday and if I miss
the farmers' market I miss out on what is happening in my locality
each week. That is where we find out about each other. All I am
suggesting is I think there is a thirst for local knowledge and
a thirst among people to have a sense of who their community is
and what members of their community are doing, which inevitably
national or even large regional broadcasters tend to trivialise.
Q1807 Lord Kalms:
If you have this idea that you want to incorporate local programmes,
why do you not try and sow the seed and plant the seed into it?
If we insisted or recommended that there were so many hours of
local and that seed is planted, if it is a good idea it would
develop and go from three hours to six. It would become totally
local. I am trying to transplant the seed into the BBC's mind
following your suggestion, which is excellent and which I totally
support. You must have a content of one, two, three or four hours
a day or so many hours a week of pure local stuff. Plant the seed.
Argue that planting of the seed and you might get somewhere. Argue
your case for total dedication and I can see a resistance from
the BBC. "It is a good idea but come back later, son."
Lord Puttnam: I have been to Hull where the
BBC has a very good centre indeed because of the history of the
way the telecom market developed in Hull. The BBC have used it
as a test bed. A lot of what they do is very good but it is very
clearly BBC driven, driven from the centre. I do not get a strong
sense of the voice of the people of Hull dominating that the output.
At the end of the day, I am a deal maker but I would love to see
at least an attempt made to see what happens when you take a housing
estate and get it to look at itself, look at its problems, identify
who its heroes and villains are and see what happens. We have
the technology, we have the resources, the wit and wisdom to do
it. All we need is the will. In the end of course I will settle
for whatever deal is possible.
Going from the local to the rather bigger stage, the World Service
to which you refer in one of your memoranda and of which you appear
to be a great admirer, have you had any views on the idea of this
Arab language service being introduced and whether the funding
for that is going to be adequate?
Lord Puttnam: I talked to Richard Sandbrook
who is responsible for it and my sense is that, yes, the resources
will be adequate and that there is quite a lot of regret within
the BBC about the cuts that had to be made in order to do it.
It was a decision made at the top. I am not so much worried about
resources. I am worried about the precedent that it sets, that
we begin to trim away the World Service in areas that are seen
to be "non-essential" in order to focus on areas which
are seen to be politically sensitive or even politically essential.
I would have thought that if there was an overwhelming argument
for an Arab service television station to be supported by the
BBC then we are a big enough and ugly enough nation to be able
to resource it without cuts but I do not know enough about the
You would argue for additional resources?
Lord Puttnam: Yes. Just to show that even the
oldest product can have new life, The Wizard of Oz was
made the year before I was born and has been watched by people
ever since. This D.V.D version went into the shops yesterday.
It is possible to give new life to even the oldest concepts.
You are the only person who, in our evidence so far, has brought
along a sort of teaching aid. Thank you very much for coming.
We have enjoyed your evidence, as always. Perhaps if we have any
other points we can come back to you.
Lord Puttnam: Thank you for listening to me.