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Equally important is the recent insight to which he referred, when addressing the Voice of the Listener & Viewer conference a week ago, on how the commitment is progressing that was given five years ago to see that the BBC should be as small as its mission allows. Considerable progress has been made with thousands of jobs gone, including whole divisions-but the clear impression also given is that the BBC's view for the post-2012 switchover is both imaginative and radical but will inevitably mean some pretty uncomfortable choices. Although continuing to resist every form of top-slicing, I am certainly heartened that as well as the best journalism, high-quality arts and drama, particular priority will be given to high-quality programmes and services for children-that is crucially important-and that there will be a greater proportion of original British content.

To end on two points, the majority of BBC radio channels, especially Radio 4, are quite outstanding, and, I hope we are going to see the plans for digital radio fully in place by 2015, as I said yesterday. But I also want to commend the BBC World Service, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did, on its reach, with 238 million listeners for its weekly international news alone, and its reputation for objectivity and relevance. It is funded mostly via the FCO and includes some TV and online content. Since the launch of BBC Arabic

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Television two years ago, this has become the most widely respected, comprehensive news and information multimedia service in the area.

Finally, looking back over the many years and enjoyable hours that I have spent listening to the BBC, I think one memory reigns supreme. It must have been at least 30 years ago that that incredible series, "Life on Earth", was made by David Attenborough. I still have all the programmes on video and they remain amazing to watch. Now, as I watch the latest, equally amazing and beautiful Attenborough programmes on insect community life, I think that heritage is yet another example of exactly what the BBC is all about. I know just how lucky I am to have been around for all but the first 10 years of its quite remarkable life.

2.25 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for enabling the House to address important issues on the future of the BBC and for the report on public service broadcasting from the Select Committee, which he chairs and of which my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester is a member. I declare an interest in today's debate as an occasional broadcaster and former chair of the Churches' Media Council.

No one who has lived abroad for any length of time would need much convincing of the quality and range of BBC broadcasting. Its output of information, edification and entertainment at home, and its role as a cultural and informative ambassador for Britain abroad has been a valuable part of our national life for decades. If we from these Benches have not been uncritical of particular aspects of the BBC over the years, we are in general its strong supporters and we wish the BBC to have a viable and fruitful future. In particular, we wish to express support for the BBC's wide range of good religious output as part of its wider public service commitments, but my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool will address this more fully in his speech.

Significant as the past contribution to the life of our nation the BBC has been, this debate is concerned with its future, and there is naturally some concern as to how the BBC will survive intact in the coming digital marketplace. For me, a parable of hope might be the way in which in central Africa in the 1970s people like me every evening tried to tune in to the eight o'clock news from the BBC World Service on shortwave radio. This was no easy task, because the night ether was full of signals from radio stations both near and far, with a babble of different call signs and languages. Nor was the BBC one of the stronger signals; on the contrary, one had to be patient and have a keen ear to eventually pick up the unmistakable BBC sound and style.

It was not only British expatriates who believed that the effort was worth while, for it was generally believed that the BBC provided a breadth of news and an objectivity of reporting that was not to be found so clearly in other stations. It was worth while, therefore, going to some effort to find and tune into the BBC among the shortwave maelstrom. Listening to the eight o'clock BBC news became quite a ritual. That

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was then and this is now; technology is transforming every aspect of life, including communications. In the digital age that we have now entered, it is perfectly easy to find several BBC stations and channels at the touch of a control button. The problem is that in the digital marketplace it is equally easy find dozens of other competing stations. Also in this 24-hour news world, an eight o'clock or even ten o'clock ritual of listening to the news is becoming a thing of the past. People find and listen to the news whenever and wherever they want-on television, radio, laptop or mobile phone, and probably before long on key-ring.

But this is not necessarily bad news for the future of the BBC. Just as in shortwave Africa, people went to some effort to make the BBC their station of choice because of its quality and objectivity, so in the easy come, easy go digital age, enough watchers and listeners will make the BBC their first choice, provided that it maintains quality and objectivity. I think that a sign of this is the number of people now making the BBC News 24 webpage their default page on their laptops and mobiles.

Nor does this just apply to news-gathering, telling and interpretation. The director-general of the BBC said in a recent lecture that it was his concern that the BBC should deliver to the British public the best programmes it can, and to turn fine words of the theory of public service broadcasting into journalism, drama, documentary and children's programmes that live on in the memory and,

From these Benches we would want to say yes to that. We look forward to the report of the review which the director-general and the BBC Trust have set up to look to the post-switchover world of 2012.

In the same lecture, the director-general tells us that we might expect to see a further shift of emphasis in favour of key priority areas: the best journalism in the world, high-quality programmes and services for children, content of every kind that builds knowledge and shares music and culture, a long-range commitment to outstanding British drama and comedy, and national events that bring us together. These words echo, in many details, the first recommendation of the report of the Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler.

Perhaps unintentionally missing is what is included in the Fowler list but is not included here: an explicit reference to programmes dealing with religion and other beliefs. I presume that religion and faith, which form such a vital part of the lives and behaviour of many British citizens, will continue to form an integral part of the BBC's future output. However, the director-general's words also contain a warning:

"Expect to see reductions in some kinds of programmes and content".

And there's the rub. For cut back some minority interests and the specialist units interpreting them become no longer viable and it will be very difficult to build up such specialisms again. We on these Benches will be interested to monitor the effects of any future cutbacks.



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What structures might the BBC need for effective service in the post-switchover world? The corporation, like any institution in today's world-including my own church and perhaps even your Lordships' House-stands on the frontier in history between what is no longer appropriate and what has not yet been invented. This is not a comfortable place to be, because predicting the future is always hazardous and deciding what needs to be carried from the past into the future requires some judgment.

We on these Benches wish the provision of excellent public service broadcasting to have a strong place in the future life of the BBC. If this is to be so, then the BBC will need to have sufficient institutional independence and financial security to be able to plan ahead with some confidence and without constant change. At present, this institutional independence and financial stability are provided by the royal charter and the licence fee. It will be for those who feel that these are no longer appropriate to make their case. I, for one, will take some convincing that any other package will serve the nation better.

2.33 pm

Lord Bragg:My Lords, first, I give many thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for securing this important debate. He has covered the ground in detail. I intend to be more general.

The BBC is unique. I believe that that is worth emphasising at the outset. In any other country it would be a thing of wonder. Like the British Museum, the British Library or the magnificent cluster in South Kensington, it is difficult to imagine that it would be invented today. We are very lucky that these institutions exist. Like them, the BBC has world fame, and of the most distinguished kind. But other countries, and other cities in this country, have their great museums and libraries for which they, too, claim eminence. None has the BBC, which-in the volatile, acutely competitive, commercially saturated, piranha-infested waters of the global media-retains its distinctive independent clout, its own tradition, its reach and its potential for good, for democracy as well as for culture, and for the reflection and portrayal of the singularity of our nations.

If you were to judge the BBC by those in this country who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this would be a brief debate. The overwhelming number of listeners and viewers-the majority of our population-rely on and use the BBC through the weeks, and they support it. Despite blips and often rather dubious statistical evidence from its opponents, there is sovereign proof in this country that it is regarded as being earthed in our society. For many people today, given the sad and embarrassing shadows across government, and the shame across the financial world, it is something of a rock. I declare an interest. I work for BBC Radio 4 as a freelance and for ITV as an employee.

This is an information society in which much information is tainted. It is sometimes lightly biased by harmless enough prejudices or transparent interests. It is at other times distorted, even used deceitfully and as near propaganda as makes no difference. Yet the BBC is constantly attacked for its independence-by

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politicians, for instance. The Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems, and I would guess all other parties have asserted from time to time that it is biased against them. This usually means that they feel criticised, challenged or analysed, with their plans to rule or misrule us put to a public test. That is what we want to happen in a democracy. Surely in a country as mature as ours, that is to be expected. In fact, it surprises me-given the way in which over the past decades Governments have often sleepwalked into mess after mess out of which the people have had to bail them-that the criticism is not much fiercer.

It can be said of the BBC, as has been said of democracy itself, that, unsatisfactory though it might be, it is far better than anything else on offer. And the BBC offers plurality, the essential twin to democracy. What it delivers is not the state propaganda which we still see in many countries, and not the oppressive commercial pressure that we see in others. By being what it is and by being so powerful, it is a constant corrective to the two extremes of the controlling state and unbridled Mammon. So powerful-that, I think, is the rub. The BBC is not the valiant rump of public service broadcasting that exists in the United States of America. Nor is it the impoverished, policed service available in other parts of the world. It is a rich global player. It has a strong income protected by an elected Parliament of which it is independent. That is unique and quite extraordinary. Its quality at its best is undeniable: in drama, documentary, science, arts, natural history, national news, foreign reports and, of course, the peerless World Service.

At a time of increasing lawlessness in the digital world-as we heard graphically spelt out in your Lordships' House yesterday-the BBC's public accountability is of greater value by the month. The creative industries, 8 per cent of our economy, are under serious threat, for instance, from copyright theft. The digital world is so under-regulated that the consequences could be a severe collapse in what has been our finest post-war success story: the growth of intellectual and imaginative property, the creative economy in which the BBC is a major player.

Of course the BBC has faults. They must be tackled, and frank friends must not hold back. Unsurprisingly, they reflect the state of the country which the BBC mirrors and describes so comprehensively. The BBC is, some critics claim, too stuffed with middle management and hired consultants, over-regulated, over-bureaucratic -like, well, the NHS, the great maw of Whitehall itself? The BBC is, other critics claim, over-aroused at the prospect of boundless expansion and puts itself about too promiscuously-like the City, the banks, the Government? Importantly, the BBC is now being caned for what it was asked to do by the Conservative Government; that is, to supplement the licence fee by going out there, using its brand and bringing in private profit to swell its coffers and lessen the burden on the licence fee, to keep the BBC as it ought to be. The BBC went out and did just that.

To put the BBC in context gives us perspective, but of course it does not erase legitimate anxieties about the organisation that it needs to address. There are

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more current local anxieties that have emerged recently-for instance, the position of the BBC Trust, so closely examined by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. And, like the ever-present chorus in a Greek tragedy, there is the constant lament about dumbing down, although in my view that is largely misplaced.

The BBC is an archipelago of variety in radio, television and the new media, and it is at the forefront of all of them. It has so far followed the two great forces: one is meeting change, while the other is maintaining the essential, even unchanging heart of any great enterprise, as happens here in your Lordships' house. It is a difficult feat to yoke these two, but it is provenly the only way to move forward without a form of self-destruction. In doing this the BBC has shown us, and at its best still shows us, at our best. It still has its core mission to educate, inform and entertain. The future of the BBC is embedded in the fabric of the future of this country.

It certainly matters that the BBC makes fine programmes; essentially, in one way, it is the sum of its programmes. It certainly matters that the BBC continues in a tradition that has proven itself for many years, because we in this country have respect for such things. It matters most, though, that the BBC is the way we do things in broadcasting. It has survived the arrival of other systems and it has sustained itself. It is part of the difference that we in Britain have and cherish because we can see how close it is to our core aspirations and our character.

The future of the BBC, then, warts and all, is worthy of all the support that your Lordships can give in the undoubted battles ahead, with the slings and arrows that are waiting just over the horizon.

2.41 pm

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on this debate, which is both topical and timely. I declare an interest as an associate of an independent production company and as someone with insider knowledge, having worked for many years at the BBC.

While we have heard nothing but praise inside this Chamber, out there the BBC is under attack. The Government want to top-slice the licence fee, while the Conservatives, in the shape of David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt-if not the noble Lord, Lord Fowler-want to freeze it.

Rupert Murdoch wants to reduce the corporation to a US-style public subscription channel offering only education and information and providing absolutely no competition to the commercial sector. His son James accuses it of being,

and, I am afraid, normally sensible newspapers have taken up this accusation. Feeling the pain of competition with the internet, they have turned on the BBC, despite the fact that in every other country-none of which, unfortunately for them, has a BBC-newspapers are facing equally dire problems. The head of Australia's public service channel said about James Murdoch's pronouncement:



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"But strip away the lofty language, and you see that the James Murdoch solution is less about making a contribution to public policy than it is getting rid of the BBC's services, effectively destroying the BBC as we know it-a tragedy for the UK-a tragedy for the world".

Simon Schama, in self-imposed exile in New York, has said:

"There is nothing like a little distance to make you reflect on what makes Britain really great. Since I live in the United States for most of the time I can tell you that many is the time I wish deeply that there was a presence like that of the BBC".

An ICM poll a couple of months ago of those of us who live here, which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to, showed that public confidence in the BBC has grown; 77 per cent regard it as a national institution that we should be proud of, 69 per cent declare it trustworthy and two out of three people think that it provides good value for money. Politicians and Sun journalists would pay for such accolades.

As all of us taking part in this debate know, British broadcasting has reached a critical point: the transition from one age to another, from analogue to digital. The analogue age lasted for about 100 years, during which time Britain developed arguably the best broadcasting system in the world. Central to this system was and is the BBC.

In 1922, when the British Broadcasting Company was set up, it had a staff of four people. I do not know how many noble Lords have seen that admirable series, "A History of Modern Britain" with Andrew Marr, but it had wonderful footage of those pioneering days when the BBC-radio, of course-appears to have been the possession of a Captain Eckersley, who would, to use the words of Andrew Marr that accompanied the film,

Then along came Lord Reith, who put an end to Eckersley and such frivolity.

The BBC was financed by the licence fee and of course in those days it was a monopoly provider, a situation that we must not return to. The creation of Independent Television in 1955 and the introduction of competition had a profound impact on broadcasting: the BBC lost its captive audience and large numbers of viewers deserted it. It had to learn to connect and it did. It did not jettison its values but it changed what it did.

Then the independent TV companies, raking in the money in those days, were asked to spend a proportion of it on PSB. BBC2 was created and then Channel 4, and in parallel with them was the creation of the independent production sector-and we enter a wonderful world of plurality and diversity. This purely terrestrial world was further enhanced by the advent of subscription channels such as Sky and for a time there was peaceful cohabitation. Today we see this under threat. Competition from digital channels and the internet has led to declining advertising revenue for the commercial public service broadcasters, exacerbated by the fact that we are in recession.

Those critics whom I referred to at the beginning of my speech fear a return to a monopolistic, overpowerful BBC. Here I depart slightly from what has been said

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so far today, because I believe that the BBC has not helped itself. Its behaviour in some areas has only fed concerns about its size and scope. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, here. The salaries paid to its executives are ridiculous, with 39 of them earning more than the Prime Minister, one with the title "director of organisational development and change"-perhaps what Prime Ministers should aspire to be. These salaries are being paid against a background of cuts to high-quality news programmes that are central to the BBC's PSB remit. Recently a BBC reporter told the Evening Standard that on many current affairs programmes the producer is flying solo, with no researcher to help them dig into the story and check the facts. I used to be a producer on "Panorama" and "Newsnight", and it is not a job that you can do well on your own.

The BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, charged with making profit to cushion the public service BBC, has been told this week by the BBC Trust that it should desist from activities that are not in keeping with the BBC brand-such as the £90 million purchase of Lonely Planet, perhaps, which so many of us supporters of the BBC questioned at the time. Like other noble Lords, I have sympathy with those running BBC Worldwide-their remit, after all, was to make money-but the way in which that remit was sometimes handled reminds me of an image conjured up in a speech made by Tim Gardam, once my boss and a former senior executive at the BBC. In it, he asked his audience to remember Walt Disney's "The Jungle Book", and compared the BBC to that,

Now, more than ever, this elephant behaviour has to be banished.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, we on these Benches would like to abolish the BBC Trust. We called long ago for a truly independent regulator of the BBC and argued at the time that the BBC Trust was established that this arrangement would only perpetuate the muddle between regulation and governance. It has. Considering that these were the very sentiments expressed publicly by the latest Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, does the Minister not think it odd that the matter of BBC governance is not addressed in the Digital Economy Bill?

Next, there is the fact that, while commercial public service broadcasters are struggling and suffering, the BBC is seen as being too big. It was good that the director-general's speech, a week ago, acknowledged this; we look forward to his commitment to establishing more focused, slimline boundaries within the BBC. The other essential element in ensuring a healthy future for the BBC is competition and we welcome the Government's commitment in the Digital Economy Bill to Channel 4.

The transformed economics of commercial PSB have put the provision of regional and local news under particular threat. Without intervention, the BBC will become a monopoly supply in this area, so we also welcome the launch in April of three independently financed news consortia pilots. We Liberal Democrats,

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as I think everyone in this House knows, were always against £600 million of the licence fee being used to pay for digital switchover's targeted assistance programme. Now it appears that not all of that money is needed and some is to be used to pay for those news consortia pilots.


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