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Committee to hold BBC Charter Review inquiry

July 23, 2015

By Colin Mann

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the UK’s House of Commons is holding an inquiry into the BBC Charter Review. This intends to cover all major aspects. Where possible, it will build upon and extend the work of the February report on the Future of the BBC. In particular, the Committee will examine the Government’s Green Paper, and when published the BBC Executive’s and Trust’s own position papers and the subsequent White Paper that will follow.

The launch of the enquiry follows publication of the Government’s Green Paper on the BBC Charter Review last week which started the formal process of public debate over the position of the BBC beyond 2016.

The previous Culture, Media and Sport Committee conducted an extensive inquiry into the future of the BBC, which produced a report of its findings in February of this year. Among other things, the report was clear that the process for agreeing the future shape, funding and constitution of the BBC must be as thorough, open and democratic as possible.

The present Green Paper has picked up on a number of the issues raised by the Committee, and is now consulting on matters including the BBC’s scope and scale, its funding arrangements and public accountability.

Significant concerns

In this context, the Committee is interested to receive written submissions in response to the Green Paper highlighting any significant views or concerns.

In particular, the Committee invites views on the following points and areas:

  • The argument that the BBC should become smaller and more focused on a narrower, core set of broadcasting and online services

  • The effectiveness of public consultation on BBC services and content choices to meet the needs of audiences, and how these consultation mechanisms might be strengthened

  • The possible scaling back of BBC production capabilities and any impact this would have on content overall, and on free-to-air content

  • The possible replacement of the licence fee with a universal household levy; and a longer-term possibility of a move to a degree of subscription for BBC services

  • The recently published Perry review into TV licence enforcement

  • The process for setting the level of funding for public service broadcasting and the availability of funds offered on a contestable basis to others for the production of PSB content

  • The substance and process of the financial settlement so far announced, including the withdrawal of the broadband top-slice and the transfer of responsibility for covering the cost of free TV licences for over 75s to the BBC from 2018

  • The position of BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm, and the suggestion that it might be reformed or sold

  • The governance of the BBC and mechanisms for holding the Corporation to account for the public money it receives and spends in line with the expectations of those who fund it

  • The BBC’s own organisation and management

  • The balance of national and regional investment and spending by the BBC

  • The importance of the BBC’s role in training and technical innovation and its support to the UK creative economy overall

  • The wider relationship between the BBC, the general public and Parliament

Committee Chair Jesse Norman said: “BBC Charter Review is a topic which directly or indirectly touches us all. That is why it is essential that the arguments made both by the BBC and by the Government be given full and rigorous scrutiny by Parliament, in the public interest.”

The deadline for written submissions is Wednesday 30 September 2015.

The Committee held its first evidence session on July 21 with Sharon White, the newly-appointed Chief Executive of Ofcom, to consider her priorities for the communications regulator. Questioned by the Committee about BBC governance, White said the watchdog could take on the wider regulation of the BBC, but ruled out absorbing the governance role of the BBC Trust.

White noted that Ofcom already regulated various aspects of the BBC’s output, but said she did not see a role for Ofcom doing the “core job” of the BBC Trust, in terms of auditing the BBC, setting the strategy and measuring how it was performing against its targets and budgets. “Those decisions need to rest in the leadership of the BBC,” she suggested.

She said she would put “a line in the sand” between regulation and the core responsibilities of the governance function, suggesting it was not a responsibility Ofcom had the competence to discharge.

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