House of Lords Debate Wednesday 12 October 2016
House of Lords Debate Wednesday 12 October 2016
BBC’s new charter – The Lord Ashton of Hyde, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)
Our key point: The Missing Link
The Government published its proposed new Charter and Agreement for the BBC for the eleven years from 1 January 2017 on 16 September 2016.
The BBC remains ‘accountable to the licence fee payers’. However, neither the Charter nor Agreement set out any mechanism for this accountability. Previously, either the BBC Trust or the BBC’s Governors had accountability to the licence fee payers as one of their responsibilities. Under the proposed new arrangements, the unitary board must be totally independent and is responsible for the ‘effective and efficient management of the BBC’. Thus the board cannot also represent the licence fee payers’ interests. Neither can Ofcom as the BBC’s regulator. However, both the board and Ofcom are to take account of the licence fee payers in their decision-making.
Our independent Inquiry (http://saveourbbc.net/inquiry/ ) earlier this year unequivocally concluded that the licence fee payers, audiences and users of BBC services and the public fully expect the BBC to continue to be accountable to them as a major stakeholder. We hasten to acknowledge they are not the sole stakeholder. In this day and age, and as technical and communications methods develop apace, the ways in which this can be achieved increase and improve rapidly.
So who or what in future will be there with the decision-makers of the future BBC to voice and represent the licence fee payers collectively? To whom or to what will the BBC be held to account and ensure open and full account is given?
We are not wedded to any particular mechanism for this; whilst we recommended one possibility we recognise that may not be the right answer. We have called upon the key parties to give this matter further and full consideration before coming forward with an answer.
Therefore, we ask you to call for:
- A clear statement in the new Charter that the BBC remains ‘accountable to the licence fee payers’
- And, that the BBC, BBC Trust, DCMS, Ofcom, and relevant others work [with us] to devise appropriate mechanisms so that the licence fee payers, audiences, service users and public, as major stakeholders, have a real and effective relationship of engagement with the BBC and accountability from it to be in place by April 2017. We recognise the limitation on time for speakers in this Debate, but this is the only occasion your House will be have to consider this vital subject. There is a danger that because some of the more radical past suggestions for this have not materialised that the proposed Charter and Agreement will pass by without full scrutiny.
Our other key points include:
- We are disappointed with the decision on the disclosure of presenters’ pay. We don’t believe this is in the long-term interests of licence fee payers. Limited Transparency is not helpful or enough; simply making the BBC publish what it pays talented employees is insufficient; it will only make sense if other UK broadcasters have to do the same so the licence fee payers see the context and can judge the value they get; the BBC operates in the mixed economy media market and that’s where it must be judged.
- Financial audit and full scrutiny by The National Audit Office (NAO), or any auditor, must not impinge in any way upon the necessary confidentiality of personnel and commercially sensitive matters, and nor must Parliamentary scrutiny (of the NAO and BBC) and privilege do so either. The NAO should also be prevented, through an agreed ‘carve out’, from expressing any views on editorial or programme making issues.
- We absolutely agree with Culture Secretary Karen Bradley MP that ‘The BBC produces world class programming that is admired and respected by [hundreds of] millions around the world.’
- So called ‘enhancing the distinctiveness of BBC content’ must not be a veiled device to stop the BBC entertaining in equal measure with informing and educating its audiences.
- We welcome the clarity brought to the governance and regulation of the BBC with the creation of the new unitary Board governing the BBC and Ofcom regulating the BBC.
- We welcome the recognition by the Government that the editorial independence of the BBC is sacrosanct.
- We welcome financial stability for the BBC and continuation of its funding by means of the licence fee.
- However, we remain gravely concerned that the licence fee settlement, which was not made in transparent fashion, will lead to more severe cuts to BBC content production and delivery of services. The Culture Secretary and Prime Minister have emphasised the need for transparency and independence and we call upon them to rerun the licence fee negotiations accordingly to ensure that the BBC has the resources to enable it to deliver the obligations placed upon it by the draft Charter and Agreement in a full, cost effective way which will deliver value for money and the outputs to ensure the BBC remains the world class broadcaster we all want it to be.
- The licence fee settlement in future should be an open and transparent process involving some degree of public consultation. The draft Charter accepts this as a headline principle but offers no detail or substance as to how it will be conducted.
- The BBC is the market maker of UK broadcasting which is founded and based on public service broadcasting (PSB) principles. It is not an intervention. All broadcasters have joined the market knowing it is a mixed economy driven by the PSB ethos. The BBC must be able to continue to operate and compete fairly in this mixed PSB environment and not be restricted in so doing.
- We have consistently called for the BBC better to serve all the nations and regions of the UK with greater devolution, whilst not adversely affecting its ability to benefit from economies of scale. It must also improve as swiftly as possible the internal diversity of its people and the external representation in its content and services.
Save Our BBC is the only single issue independent national campaign group for the BBC’s audiences and service users, licence fee payers, voters, the UK public. Our aim is to reflect the popularity of the BBC: 97% of the UK population uses the BBC for an average of just over 18 hours per week; RAJAR, BARB and user data show the large audiences and numbers of users for all BBC programmes, content and services which add up to show the popularity of the BBC as a whole. The audiences and users of the BBC want it to survive and thrive as an independent public service broadcaster which informs, educates and entertains.
We hope you find this helpful. I will attend the House for the Debate and would be happy to meet you to discuss this beforehand should you so wish.
11 October 2016