The Government has published the topics for debate as part of the process to review the BBC’s Royal Charter to make sure it remains a valued public broadcaster.
The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter, with the current Charter due to expire at the end of 2016. The Government’s consultation paper – a “Green Paper” – is the first stage of the process in setting a new Charter.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale MP, said: “The BBC is at the very heart of Britain. It is one of this nation’s most treasured institutions – playing a role in almost all of our lives. Ten years ago, the last time the Government ran a Charter Review, the media landscape looked very different. The BBC has adapted to this changing landscape, and remains much-loved by audiences, a valuable engine of growth and an international benchmark for television, radio, online and journalism.
“However, we need to ask some hard questions during this Charter Review. Questions about what the BBC should be trying to achieve in an age where consumer choice is now far more extensive than it has been, what its scale and scope should be in the light of those aims, how far it affects others in television, radio and online, and what the right structures are for its governance and regulation.”
The consultation sets out four broad issues for public discussion:
BBC’s mission, purpose and values
The BBC currently has six public purposes that were set out at the last Charter Review in 2006:
Sustaining citizenship and civil society
Promoting education and learning
Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities
Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
Delivering to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services.
All of the BBC’s activity should be working towards one or more of these. The consultation paper looks at whether these purposes are still relevant, and in the context of recent challenges the organisation has faced, if there should be more direction set about how the BBC works by defining its values in the next Charter.
Scale and scope of the BBC’s services and operations
Twenty years ago the BBC had two television channels and five national radio stations. It is now the largest public service broadcaster in the world, with nine television channels, ten national radio stations, and a major online presence. The consultation paper looks at whether this particular range of services best serves licence fee payers and the impact it has on the commercial sector given the current and future media environment.
The way in which the BBC is funded
The BBC is currently funded via the TV licence fee, which has proven to be a very resilient form of funding – bringing in £3.7 billion last year. However it is not without its challenges – for example it is regressive, set at a flat rate and is not adjusted for different household incomes. It is also true that more people – especially younger people – now access television exclusively online and without a licence. This is perfectly legal, as the existing legislation was drawn up when the iPlayer did not even exist. The Government has already committed to dealing with this problem and the Charter Review will allow us to look at how to modernise the current system.
BBC’s governance and accountability
The BBC Trust – established by the current Charter – exists to represent licence fee payers and hold the BBC to account. At times the BBC has fallen well short of the standards that the public expect of it, such as the Digital Media Initiative, the failed £100m technology project which exposed governance issues at the BBC. There are three broad alternative options – to reform the Trust model, create a unitary board and a new standalone oversight body or move external regulation wholesale to Ofcom. The Government is seeking views on these models and the wider issues of how the BBC’s transparency and accountability can be improved.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale MP added: “The BBC is a national institution, paid for by the public. It will have spent more than £30 billion of public money over the current Charter period. Everyone must be able to have their say on how well they think that money is spent. This consultation gives them that opportunity. It also invites them to comment on how the BBC is governed.
“This publication is an important first step in an open and thorough Charter Review. It sets out the issues and some of the options for change. I want it to stimulate a national debate over the coming months as we map out the future for our BBC.”
The public consultation marks the start of the Charter Review process. Over the coming months, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be engaging with the public and industry to make sure that all views are given proper consideration.
To support the Charter Review, the Government has announced the appointment of a group of experts from across a range of industries and backgrounds. Its remit will be to provide expertise, challenge and advice during the Charter Review process.
The public and industry can access the consultation paper, including an online response form, at www.gov.uk/bbccharterreview. The consultation will run until October 8, 2015. The Government will then bring forward proposals based on this consultation in Spring 2016.
The BBC Charter Review can be found online at www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445704/BBC_Charter_Review_Consultation_WEB.pdf.
A copy of the BBC Royal Charter laid before Parliament in October 2006 can be found online at https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/how_we_govern/charter.pdf.