Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2060 - 2079)

TUESDAY 24 JANUARY 2006

Ms Jocelyn Hay CBE and Mr Robert Clark

  Q2060  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: May I ask you a couple of questions about spectrum?

  Ms Hay: Yes.

  Q2061  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: As you know, it is contemplated, possible, may be likely, that broadcasters will be charged by Ofcom for the use of spectrum and it is possible that public service broadcasters, the BBC, will be charged for the use of spectrum. It is argued that this will be a discipline on them and make sure they do not waste it—this is the argument for it—but I wondered what your attitude both to the principle of public service broadcasters being charged for the use of spectrum was and the appropriateness of Ofcom for doing it?

  Ms Hay: As to the second part, Ofcom has been given this task. I think a lot will depend on the transparency and the manner in which they handle that responsibility, but as to whether the public service broadcasters should pay spectrum tax, it is going to be another charge on them. Whether it will create a stricter discipline, I do not know. If it does create an extra charge on the broadcasters, in the case of the BBC that is going to fall on the licence fee payer again, and I notice that I think it was the National Statistics Office last week have redesignated the licence fee as a tax, so this could then be construed as a form of stealth tax, could it not? It is taking with one hand and giving away with the other. I do not see the justification for the public service broadcasters being charged spectrum tax, either Channel Four or the BBC. Those are the two that will feel it most. ITV has already been relieved of a lot of its licence costs—those fees have been reduced—and, so far as I can tell, we do not think it is a good idea, but we have not seen the full justification or the cost and benefits of the policy.

  Q2062  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Could I further ask, not on digital spectrum but on analogue spectrum where it is quite apparent, as we have just been discussing, that there are a lot of costs associated with ditigal switch-over but there is also a potential revenue bonus, which is the sale of the analogue spectrum which will be liberated by the switch-over. I wondered whether, as some have suggested, you feel that in any way this revenue which results from the digital switch-over should be used to offset—and we do not know yet what it will be worth and how valuable it is, but to the it is of value, it should be used to offset some of the costs or all of the costs of digital switch-over?

  Ms Hay: Yes, we do quite definitely believe that that should be used within that direction. Having had a meeting with Ofcom, just before Christmas when, they said they had three, at least, commercial operators queuing up to buy that spectrum. I think it could be worth quite a lot, particularly in another five years' time. Two or three years ago it was being pooh-poohed as worthless, but now it is pretty obvious that a number of commercial companies would very much like to get their hands on it, as I say. It will have a value, and it is an obvious source of funding to be used to implement government policy of furthering switch-over.

  Q2063  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Your organisation does not by any chance have any estimate of the potential value of the sales of analogue spectrum?

  Ms Hay: I am sorry, no, we do not.

  Q2064  Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I think we are all in the same boat.

  Ms Hay: Yes. It would be nice, but I am afraid not.

  Q2065  Chairman: You mentioned the Communications Act, which we all remember.

  Ms Hay: Yes.

  Q2066  Chairman: But I, for the life of me, cannot remember how much attention was given to this issue of Ofcom being allowed to make the charge to decide which broadcasters to charge for spectrum. Was it something which was well debated?

  Ms Hay: I do not think it was. There was a report, and I suspect that the present policy is largely based on that, by Professor Martin Cave three or four years ago.

  Q2067  Chairman: We have seen that.

  Ms Hay: In which he advocated spectrum charging. I personally have not seen much else on the subject. To my knowledge that is the principal report, although I may have missed other ones.

  Lord Kalms: Can we cover a little bit about religious broadcasting?

  Chairman: We have now got the Bishop of Manchester with us, who has come back from the floor of the House where he has been doing service, we notice.

  Q2068  Lord Kalms: We are not doing Manchester today! I was reading in your letter the recommendation of the Council of Europe on religious broadcasting, and this somehow combines I think the most noble of thoughts that man has ever had in this declaration. You recommended the BBC should follow it, which suggests that the BBC is not following it. I am just trying to find out how you feel that the BBC is erring from the Council of Europe's recommendations? How could the BBC improve?

  Ms Hay: We did not actually mean to infer that the BBC was erring from that. The BBC is not doing too bad a job really. It does provide religious broadcasts. The Council of Europe recommends the public service broadcasters, provide a service that builds understanding within and between communities and tolerance and understanding of different faiths, and the BBC and indeed Channel Four, are pretty good at doing this. There have been two excellent programmes this year, one on the BBC with Rageh Omar and one on Channel Four with Waldemak Janusek on Islam, for instance, and the BBC recently did a series with Jonathan Miller on non-believers, non-belief and atheism. I think they are doing a reasonably good job, but from the point of view of going further than that, I am not quite sure what the Committee is looking for here on the question of religious broadcasting.

  Q2069  Lord Kalms: We have had several interviews on religious broadcasting and the BBC puts forward a very strong case. I was trying to seek the differences between their case, which is quite a powerful and well-presented argument, and the rather broader nobler concepts of Europe. If you cannot define it, then it is not definable. In other words, they probably blend together, but unless you have a particular view, let me ask you a particular question, for instance. What is your view of Thought of the Day?

  Ms Hay: I personally enjoy Thought of the Day although it varies greatly from day-to-day. It is sometimes better quality than others. It does now cover other faiths than the Christian faith, but quality depends very much on the competence of the individual speakers. Personally, I listen to it almost every day and I enjoy it and find it uplifting in most cases, I like it to be there but I know there is some pressure from some quarters to remove it. I think it is a good thing, and I do not think it is too intrusive. I can put up with some programmes that I do not like, and I think other people should also be able to do the same thing for the general good. I think the same about the Morning Service. I do not personally listen to it, but I know quite a lot of people who do, and find it of enormous comfort. I think it is one of those things that the BBC should be broadcasting. (In the list of questions that you sent to me in advance you mentioned that Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, said there had been more complaints received. I think some of those were inspired by the Jerry Springer incident, which was a special phenomenon, did bring the whole issue into the public eye, and in which the use of modern communications orchestrated the response to a hitherto unknown extent.

  Q2070  Chairman: Thought for the Day, I do not think anyone was thinking, or certainly on this Committee—at least I was not thinking—I had better not try and talk for the whole committee on anything to do with Thought for the Day—but it is not my view that we should get rid of it, but there is an argument for extending it so that other people apart from the recognised faiths, humanists, for example, who might believe very strongly in a set of principles which could also be expressed. Would you be against that?

  Ms Hay: Not necessarily, no. Again, I think it would depend on the question of balance and context. We in VLV do not normally get involved in criticism of individual programmes, so I am speaking personally now, not on behalf of the organisation. But in my experience Thought for the Day is not a programme that proselytizes on behalf of any particular religion, it is a thought for the day which is generally geared to be uplifting for people of any faith, I would have thought.

  Q2071  Chairman: Any faith or no faith.

  Ms Hay: Or no faith, yes, in most cases. Not entirely—sometimes it errs one way or the other, that is down to individual speakers—but I think it is fairly uplifting.

  Q2072  Chairman: We are entering dangerous waters here.

  Ms Hay: I am not speaking for Voice of the Listener and Veiwer here. That is my personal view.

  Q2073  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Picking up on the question of breadth of coverage, one of our witnesses from Channel Four did suggest that the BBC tended to confine religious coverage to the Judai/Christian area?

  Ms Hay: Rageh Omar did a brilliant series on Islam this year on BBC Four, and it was repeated on BBC Two but fairly late at night.

  Q2074  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: I think he was talking about Hinduism, Buddhism, but getting slightly beyond—

  Ms Hay: Channel Four did a brilliant series on the Kum Mila, a Hindu festival a couple of years ago.

  Q2075  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: There was a suggestion that the BBC's is a little bit stuck on Islam and Judaism. I wondered what your view was on that, but your companion seems to be shaking his head vigorously.

  Mr Clark: The In belief programme on Radio Three, Joan Bakewell, covered all spectrums. She interviewed Hindus, Sikhs. It is a programme that goes out at Easter and Christmas or two programmes—I am not sure—but, yes, the full spectrum is covered and the good ones are repeated. If you take broadcasting as radio and television, I think it is very wide. I cannot comment on religious television.

  Ms Hay: I think after all Indarjit Singh's Thought for the Day is one of the best of those, and it gives a Sikh point of view.

  Q2076  Bishop of Manchester: Let me ask the one question which arises, again, from what Mark Thompson has said and not simply on the controversy side but more in terms of what he has described as something of a cultural shift and that during his tenure of office he sees himself as being in a situation where any broadcasting organisation faces the importance of religion on a worldwide scale in a manner that has not quite been so intense for many a generation. I do not know whether from your organisation you pick up any kind of increase in interest in that sort of way or not?

  Ms Hay: It is very difficult, I think. In some ways the evidence is conflicting. In some ways we are into a much more secular world and there is an apparent turning away from the established churches; in other ways people appear to be seeking a spiritual life that they do not have at the moment. I do not think I am qualified to comment on that, quite frankly. I see a place for creating greater understanding. I see a place for religious broadcasting because it brings a comfort and fulfils a need that a lot of people who are confined to the home have, and they cannot find the means of meeting that need in any other way. There is also a need—and there is also perhaps a growing number of people—who have no belief and would like to see a wider range of philosophical and ethical debate. And I think it is up to the BBC to reflect that as well, but also to try to create a better knowledge, understanding and tolerance between different faiths.

  Q2077  Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Let me turn to the move to Manchester, which is expected to be rather expensive the BBC was suggesting, £400 million. On the other hand Pat Loughrey, the Director of Nations and Regions, stated that value for money is not the prime objective of the project. Do you think value for money should be a prime objective or that it is appropriate that value for money is set aside in evaluating the move to Manchester?

  Ms Hay: I do not think it is necessarily the only objective. Did he say what the objective was if it was not value for money?

  Q2078  Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: That would require me to draw on memory more than anything I have in front of me, but I think that what he had in mind when we discussed this with him was breaking an over metropolitan culture within the BBC in favour of something that was more reflective of the diversity of the country.

  Ms Hay: There is certainly, I think in many areas of life, a London centric view which, as an organisation that has members in almost every county in the Kingdom and certainly representation in almost all of them, it does not support a totally London centric view. On the other hand, we have not seen evidence yet of the benefits of moving to one single place like Manchester. Why was Manchester chosen over other centres like Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, for instance? Why is the move being centered on one particular metropolitan area like Manchester? I think what we would like to see is some evaluation of the moves that have already being made; the religious department, for instance was moved to Manchester a few years ago. I have not seen any recent evaluation of how efficient that was, whether it was effective, and again some of the arguments for moving departments, like children's, up to Manchester. What the actual benefits will be, and again, on a service like Radio Five Live, which, being a news service, wants very often to interview people who may not be available in Manchester. We have not seen all the arguments, the costs or the alternative objectives. So I think at the moment it is open to question and it is up to the BBC to prove the value, because it will be an expensive move.

  Q2079  Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Would you not expect it to be a cost-cutting move to no longer be paying London costs for certain things?

  Ms Hay: One would hope so. If it is simply going to mean more people travelling up and down to Manchester it might increase the costs.


 
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