15 Dec 2017
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BBC supports government’s White Paper

MUMBAI: BBC has said that the UK government’s White Paper affirms the importance of the BBC to the public and to the creative industries. It is a White Paper that will provide the BBC with long-term stability and a strong foundation for the BBC to continue to inform, educate and entertain the entire British public.

The announcement and White Paper published by the Government means that:

  • There will be an 11-year charter to take debates about the BBC out of the election cycle.
  • The licence fee is also now secure for the next 11 years. As per normal, there will be a funding review at the mid-term. There will also be a health check focusing on the new governance and regulatory reforms that will not look at the BBC’s purposes, mission, or licence fee model.
  • The funding agreement with the Government last year is confirmed. BBC will take on responsibility for TV licences for the over 75s, in exchange for modernisation of the licence fee to close the iPlayer loophole this autumn, an increase in the licence fee linked to inflation, and no new top-slicing. With the extra £85 million per year for the World Service, the BBC’s funding settlement is comparable to other public sector bodies – where funding has not been protected.
  • The BBC’s reform programme is endorsed. So it can press ahead with plans to create BBC Studios as a commercial subsidiary, allowing the BBC, for the first time, to make programmes for others.
  • Importantly, the White Paper has not argued that the BBC should reduce its scale or scope, or that we should sell commercial assets. This will ensure that the BBC is able to make fantastic programmes for the British public. It also acknowledges the BBC’s significant progress on improving efficiency.

BBC DG Tony Hall said, “This White Paper delivers a mandate for the strong, creative BBC the public believe in. A BBC that will be good for the creative industries – and most importantly of all, for Britain.

“There has been a big debate about the future of the BBC. Searching questions have been asked about its role and its place in the UK. That’s right and healthy, and I welcome that debate.

“At the end, we have an 11-year Charter, a licence fee guaranteed for 11 years, and an endorsement of the scale and scope of what the BBC does today. The White Paper reaffirms our mission to inform, educate and entertain all audiences on television, on radio and online.”

There are some areas where the BBC will continue to talk to the Government to address any remaining issues. These are:

  • The White Paper calls for the NAO to be the BBC’s auditor. The NAO is already able to conduct value-for-money studies, and any further expansion of their role must include an explicit exclusion for editorial decision-making.
  • On governance, the White Paper means that for the first time the BBC will be externally regulated by Ofcom but with a unitary board. This is the most significant reform in the BBC’s history. BBC thinks that is the right thing to do. Its view of how the new board is appointed to run the BBC differs from that held in government.

Hall added, “We have an honest disagreement with the Government on this. I do not believe that the appointments proposals for the new unitary board are yet right. We will continue to make the case to government. It is vital for the future of the BBC that its independence is fully preserved.”

BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead said, “We recognise that the Government has moved, but we need to debate these issues to ensure the arrangements for the board achieve the correct balance of independence, public oversight and operational effectiveness. We believe there is more than enough time to get this right, and we will continue to discuss this with the government.”

The BBC will shortly be announcing a set of reforms to BBC Online recommended by a creative review of the service announced last year and led by the BBC’s director of news & current affairs.

The BBC has also announced a new partnership with local news providers, building on the proposals it set out last September. These proposals will help ensure that there is strong scrutiny of local democracy and the courts system: bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2016/bbc-nma-partnership

The importance of the BBC determining what programmes it makes and when it shows them has been preserved. The government has no plans to tell the BBC what programmes to make, or when to show them, nor is it providing regulators with the power to do so. The White Paper, rightly, says this is a matter for the BBC’s board – just as it is today.

The government has also set up a contestable fund for diversity and children’s programming, which they will consult on in the autumn. This fund is designed for other broadcasters, and will be funded by the government from their previous under-spend on broadband funding.

The BBC has also set out proposals for how it will enhance coverage and representation in the nations.