BRIEFING NOTE ABOUT GREEN PAPER KEY ISSUES FOR BBC’S CHARTER REVIEW 15-16
The Green paper addresses the issues reported by The Sunday Times on 12 July 2015 as being likely to be included in the Green Paper, and which are raised in the Green Paper published on 16 July 2015:
“Open the door to a replacement for the £145.50 licence fee, with a household tax, subscription payment and a means-tested licence fee all on the table”
Save Our BBC wants all the BBC’s existing programmes/output/content and services to survive and thrive for the future after this forthcoming Charter and funding review and be able to adapt to new technologies. We are not wedded to any particular means of funding and resourcing. However we note that: the BBC’s competitor commercial broadcasters recommend and want to maintain the status quo; and, we are told that the licence fee system is the cheapest, best value method at present, for the BBC audience and service users.
“… the BBC Trust should be scrapped because it cannot be a cheerleader and regulator at the same time and propose that either Ofcom or a new regulator takes over”
Save Our BBC wants all the BBC’s existing programmes/output/content and services to survive and thrive for the future after this forthcoming Charter and funding review and be able to adapt to new technologies. We are not wedded to any particular system of governance. We recognise that Ofcom has already fulfilled its mandate as far as it applies at present to the BBC very capably. We note the criticisms of the BBC Trust which does not seem to have been as effective as would have been liked. Some of this has been because of the problems experienced by some leading members of the Trust which have seemed to damage the reputation and effectiveness of the Trust to fully represent the interests of the licence fee payers. We also see the difficulty of the Trust trying to be both “cheerleader and regulator”. We tend to the view that a better model might be a fully functioning BBC Corporate Board, possibly along the lines of the German model with an overseeing Supervisory Board. We believe passionately in the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) ethos and model which makes UK broadcasting the best in the world and involves more than just the BBC although the BBC is the major UK PSB player. Ofcom is clearly a commercially orientated regulator. Therefore we are minded to suggest that a separate PSB Trust should be established to regulate and maintain all the UK’s PSB.
“Suggest the BBC website could be scaled back after complaints it is killing local newspapers”
Save Our BBC says that the BBC website is a jewel in the crown of the BBC, UK and internationally. It is authoritative and heavily used and relied upon because of its independence, impartiality and stature. There is no foundation to the ‘argument’ that it is adversely affecting local, regional and national newspapers. Those newspapers are suffering the same adverse effects world-wide and the BBC website does not operate in the same way globally as it does in the UK. On the contrary, BBC local radio, regional television and their attendant sections of the BBC website offer exctiing opportunities for collaboration with newspapers which must be explored and developed to improve the news, current affairs, information, education and entertainment for regional and local communities.
“Question whether BBC news fulfils its obligation to be politically impartial”
Save Our BBC notes the recurring claims that BBC News and Current Affairs are politically biased and partial. However, we note the inability when asked of the critics to produce concrete evidence of such bias. We note the reviews of impartiality undertaken by the BBC Trust. We note that for some particular subjects there have been findings of some institutional bias, for instance in coverage of the Middle East. However, there are no such findings for coverage of UK party politics. It is vital to understand the way in which BBC impartiality is governed. The BBC attempts to make as many individual reports, packages and programmes as balanced as possible. However that is not the criteria because it is not possible for any news publisher to achieve that level of balance. Instead balance and impartiality has to be judged across the totality of output.
Thus it is inevitable that highly motivated political parties will see bias in individual items and attempt to use that to their advantage, including by pressurising the BBC and all other media news providers to attempt to get the best possible coverage for themselves and least for their competitors. Internationally the BBC has the reputation for staunch independence and impartiality and we only have to look at news coverage in the US to see the dangers of the alternative.
It is vital that the BBC Charter fully maintains the total independence of the BBC from Government and all party political interference.
“Examine whether more BBC programmes should be made by independent production companies or whether BBC production facilities should be privatised”
Save Our BBC wants all the BBC’s existing programmes/output/content and services to survive and thrive for the future after this forthcoming Charter and funding review and be able to adapt to new technologies. We are not wedded to any particular means of the production of those outputs and leave that to be delivered in the most efficient and cost effective manner by the BBC’s management, as fully resourced by the decision makers for its remit.
“Ask for views on the role of BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, which some would also like to see sold”
Save Our BBC wants all the BBC’s existing programmes/output/content and services to survive and thrive for the future after this forthcoming Charter and funding review and be able to adapt to new technologies. We are not wedded to any particular means of funding and resourcing. We recognise the vast volume and value of the BBC’s outputs and archive and that these may be used as sources for resourcing the operations and activities of the BBC.
Quotes from a DCMS official reported to include:
Mostly addressed by Save Our BBC as above
“root-and branch look at everything BBC does”; “will cover funding, governance, its news content; its creative output, how much independent production companies do”; will “look at impartiality”; “The BBC has a mission statement; is this right for the BBC in terms of purpose and mission?”
BBC should promote public service principles rather than replicate output of commercial rivals
Shouldn’t chase ratings
Save Our BBC says though that Government, key opinion formers and decision makers should recognise the data which shows the popularity and use of all the BBC’s programmes, content and services
Don’t cut core services like local radio but stop spending money on such programmes as The Voice
Save Our BBC passionately campaigns for maintenance of the Reithian ethos of the BBC which must continue in all respects and fully to inform, educate and entertain. Why is there support for ‘quality US Drama’ but not popular US entertainment? The BBC and UK broadcasters produce and export far more quality formats abroad and to the US than is imported. However, the UK does not have the monopoly on good ideas for entertainment.
No 10 and Prime Minister want review to drive up quality of programmes and wants more quality drama – like US tv networks. Thinks purpose of BBC is to ensure quality pushed up.
“The Prime Minister’s view is that channels like Sky Atlantic are showing a lot of very good quality dramas from America and wants to see the BBC compete in that space. That’s not saying all you should do is broadcast operas in German. You do need quality programming that is concerned with entertainment as well.”
The BBC should not abandon all popular programmes because the licence fee means it needs broad appeal. But “The issue is making sure there is quality without strangling other things in the market place.”
Save Our BBC sees some apparent elitist judgementalism in these comments. The drama output by Sky Atlantic and others of that ilk is miniscule in comparison to the total output of BBC Drama and UK PSB Drama. However, it is highly funded and promoted for maximum impact and it seems this has coloured the views of those who do not have the time or need to use UK broadcasting as their main source of entertainment, and so also of information and education. The BBC is the market maker. All commercial operators have joined the UK media sector in the knowledge that the BBC preceded them. At the Westminster Media Forum Event on 2 June 2015 all the speakers from the commercial broadcasters, television and radio, including Sky, agreed unanimously that they wish to maintain the status quo, including the BBC’s outputs and licence fee. The commercial competitors are not saying they feel ‘strangled’.
We trust that the Government will research the issues appertaining to the Charter Review vigorously and take full note of the views and wishes of the BBC’s audience, service users and licence fee payers. After all they are the voters and we trust that democratic principles will apply.