Westminster Media Forum Seminar The Missing Link
Public Service Broadcasting and Content: latest on investment, remit delivery and policy options
Tuesday 13 December 2016
The Calledonian Club, London, SW1X 7DR
The Missing Link
The proposed new BBC Charter and Agreement for the BBC for the eleven years from 1 January 2017 was published on 16 September 2016.
The BBC remains ‘accountable to the licence fee payers’. Neither the Charter nor Agreement set out any mechanism for this accountability. Previously, either the BBC Trust or Governors were accountable to the licence fee payers. Under the proposed arrangements, the unitary board (executives and non-executives) must be 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 recent independent Inquiry (http://saveourbbc.net/inquiry/ ) concluded that the licence fee payers expect the BBC to continue to be accountable to them as a major stakeholder. We acknowledge they are not the sole stakeholder. As technical and communications methods develop apace the ways in which this can be achieved increase and improve rapidly.
Who or what in future will be there with the BBC’s decision-makers to voice and represent the licence fee payers collectively? To whom or by what will the BBC be held to account and ensure transparent and full account is given?
We are not wedded to any particular mechanism for this; whilst our Inquiry recommended one possibility we recognise that may not be the right answer.
We call for:
- The BBC, BBC Trust, DCMS, Ofcom, and relevant others to work with us to create 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.
Our other key points include:
- We are disappointed about the decision to disclose presenters’ pay. Simply making the BBC publish what it pays talented employees will only make sense if other UK broadcasters have to do the same so licence fee payers see the context and value they get; the BBC operates in the mixed-economy media market and that’s where it must be judged.
- Audit by The National Audit Office (NAO) must not impinge upon the personnel confidentiality and commercially sensitive matters; nor must Parliamentary scrutiny (of the NAO and BBC) and privilege do so either.
- ‘Enhancing the distinctiveness of BBC content’ must not be a device to stop the BBC entertaining in equal measure with informing and educating.
- The licence fee ‘settlement’ was not made in transparent fashion. More severe cuts to BBC content, production and delivery of services are due. The Culture Secretary and Prime Minister have emphasised the need for transparency and independence; they should rerun the licence fee negotiations to ensure the BBC has the resources to deliver the obligations placed upon it in a full, cost effective way, delivering value for money and ensuring the BBC remains the world’s leading broadcaster.
- The BBC is the market maker of UK broadcasting, 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 allowed to continue to operate and compete fairly in this mixed PSB environment.
- We have consistently called for the BBC better to serve all the nations and regions of the UK with greater devolution, whilst continuing to benefit from economies of scale. It must also improve the internal diversity of its people and the external representation in its content and services.
Save Our BBC is the independent national campaign group for the BBC’s licence fee payers. 97% of the UK population uses the BBC for an average of 18 hours per week; the large audiences for BBC programmes, content and services want the BBC to survive, thrive, inform, educate and entertain.