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David Puttnam

After Brexit, would you want MPs anywhere near the BBC charter?

After Brexit, would you want MPs anywhere near the BBC charter?

04 July, 2016

After Brexit, would you want MPs anywhere near the BBC charter?

You didn’t need great powers of prophecy to guess that Lord Puttnam’s inquiry into the future of public service broadcasting would deliver a thumping defence of C4 (don’t sell it) and the BBC (stop mucking around with it). But long-distance inquiries often have short, sharp relevance to current events: and here we go again. What price a BBC royal charter renewal when we haven’t got a prime minister, and won’t have for months? What price the wisdom of parliament when Westminster is in mid-nervous breakdown?

Puttnam (praying Sir David Normington, the outgoing commissioner for public appointments, in aid) thinks six HMG choices on the new BBC executive board is rotten for corporation independence; he wants an independent panel appointing independent selection teams on the amended Leveson press royal charter model (though he doesn’t actually fancy royal charter status any longer). He definitively doesn’t want sticky political fingers feeling BBC collars.

So far, so good. Politically monitored “truth” doesn’t look very appetising after a Brexit campaign where politicians were quite able to make up their own big lies without media assistance. Prime ministerial approval of appointments may be more problematic than ever in a Gove-Rupert world of business and media chums. But the total independence route – pace Leveson – isn’t working too brilliantly either as that independent panel ponders lengthily and expensively whether there’s any regulator worth approving.

Why not a BBC board that the BBC itself appoints – maybe with one HMG member – and Ofcom regulation in the accustomed manner? That doesn’t sink into a quagmire of complications. It’s a simple division of responsibilities: and simplicity is key here.

Just look at the first 48 hours after Brexit. Suddenly, public service interviewers – casting aside the smothering burden of guidelines and watching enforcers – can ask about that mythic £350m coming back from Europe, and a succession of Brexiters mumble about “possibilities” and “aspirations”. Suddenly, free from contortions of caution, they can bring us the simple truth.

Written by Peter Preston

Source: The Guardian