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David Puttnam

Press Release: A Future For Public Service Television Inquiry – Response to BBC Charter White Paper

Press Release: A Future For Public Service Television Inquiry – Response to BBC Charter White Paper

12 May, 2016

Press Release: A Future For Public Service Television Inquiry – Response to BBC Charter White Paper

The Inquiry, chaired by Lord Puttnam, welcomes those commitments in today’s white paper that will provide the BBC with a degree of stability and confidence at a time of huge transformations in the media landscape. We remain, however, vigilant about the threats to its independence and its remit as a universal public service broadcaster.

We have a number of concerns:

We accept that a new system of governance is necessary and believe that, if properly constituted, a unitary board is likely to serve licence fee payers more adequately than the existing setup. We believe, however, that the involvement of DCMS in the appointment of up to half of a new and powerful unitary board – including the chair and deputy chair – will not inspire public confidence and is not a sufficient guarantee that the government, in the words of the culture secretary, will “ensure [that] the independence of the BBC is beyond doubt.”
Further to the above, we would like to see an appointments process that is meaningfully independent of government and that is not contaminated by the possibility of personal or political patronage. Licence fee payers need a Board that is both free of government intervention and one that is committed to holding the BBC to account where necessary.
Regarding the BBC’s commitment to innovation, we are especially concerned that the sixth public purpose – that of developing new technologies in the public interest – has been scrapped. We feel that the BBC has made a huge contribution in the field of innovation – from the development of colour TV to the iPlayer more recently – and we would strongly argue that this purpose should be retained.
While limited parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s funding plan is provided for, the white paper firmly rejects the proposal that the licence fee should be set by an independent body. We note that the 2015 settlement requiring the BBC to pay for over-75’s tv licences was not subject to any parliamentary oversight and it is far from clear in today’s white paper, how the new process for setting the licence fee will ensure that the 2015 settlement process is never repeated.
The white paper acknowledges the need to increase accountability to the nations of the UK but there is little detail about how representative voices from the devolved nations can more fully participate in the governance and the regulation of the BBC.

We welcome:

the eleven-year charter extension which will remove the decision-making process about the future of the BBC from the electoral cycle and will create a space in which to debate and discuss how the Corporation can best respond to ongoing changes in distribution and consumption.
We are particularly pleased to see that the government has chosen to enshrine diversity as a core purpose of the BBC and we look forward to the development of concrete measures, underpinned by dedicated funding, that will transform both the employment prospects and representation of all minority communities.
We are also pleased that a whole series of proposals that would have undermined the ability of the BBC to cater fully to the needs of licence fee payers have been scrapped. We are grateful that government listened to public opinion that showed little appetite for moves to curb the scope of BBC services, to top-slice the BBC’s budget or to prevent the BBC from running popular programmes at times of its own choice.