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MPs: BBC Charter should herald era of openness

In its report on the BBC White Paper, that forms the basis of the BBC’s next 11-year Charter, the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee has welcomed the decision to abolish the BBC Trust and establish a unitary Board, to consolidate regulation of the BBC in Ofcom and to enhance the role of the National Audit Office in overseeing the BBC accounts.

The Committee also makes three further recommendations for reform at the BBC as part of its new charter:

  1. The BBC should publish details of all salaries over the £143,000 threshold for performers, presenters and producers, as well as executives. The Committee concludes that there is no good reason to hide BBC performer’s total pay under the guise of preventing poaching by other stations: salary levels are already common knowledge in the industry and should be accountable to the public as well.
  2. The Committee retains serious concerns over the appointment of the new Board, including the way the Chair was reappointed without a recruitment process. The Chair of the BBC Trust heads up a board, supported by a secretariat, which is charged with the governance of the BBC, but has little operational responsibility. The Chair of the new unitary Board of the BBC, however, is the head of a global broadcasting company. The two roles are very different, and have very different responsibilities. The process of appointing the Chair should have been via an open and orderly public competition, as is standard in the public sector and as the Government has proposed for other members of the board.
  3. Following the trial of three different pilot formats, the BBC should proceed with a ‘Scottish Six’: a television news programme anchored in Scotland, with a running order of Scottish, UK and international stories based on news merit, drawing on all the BBC’s facilities, and broadcast from Scotland.

Damian Collins MP, Acting Chair of the Committee, said: “On the question of pay, the point is that all these salaries are paid by the licence fee payer, whether they are for broadcasters or BBC executives. Why should there be different rules for each? It’s disingenuous to say confidentiality is needed to prevent poaching when in general everyone in the industry knows what everyone else is getting paid. The threshold should be the same for both executives and talent, the salary of anyone getting paid more than the Prime Minister should be published.”

“The appointment of Rona Fairhead as Chair of the new BBC unitary board cannot really be called a re-appointment as the role is so different. Ms Fairhead’s experience with the Trust and the benefits of continuity might well have favoured her in a proper, open recruitment process. But given the prestige of the new role it is likely that other strong candidates could have emerged. At any rate, it would not be appropriate for any Minister, including even the Prime Minister, simply to offer her the job. Whatever rules for public appointments are finally settled on, there must always be a very good reason for not following due process. That was simply not the case here. There was no urgency: Rona Fairhead could have been asked to stay in post until the new Charter came into operation. When the new arrangements for Public Appointments are in place, this sort of unusual appointment would likely be referred to the Commissioner for review.”

“The six o’clock news in Scotland is currently split into two: the main news stories, whether international or relating to the UK (in whole or in part), are presented from London while Scottish news is presented from Glasgow. In the post devolution era, this can lead to network news programmes transmitted from London leading on several purely English stories – for instance on health, justice or education.”

“The BBC has already acknowledged that there is dissatisfaction with this situation. However, we believe that it is perfectly reasonable for editorial decisions on the running order for television news broadcasts in Scotland to be made in Scotland, and broadcast from Scotland, as they are already for radio.”

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