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David Puttnam

BBC cannot thrive if constantly threatened

BBC cannot thrive if constantly threatened

27 November, 2015

Lord Puttnam: BBC cannot thrive if constantly threatened 

As pressures mount for the UK's biggest public service broadcaster, Lord David Puttnam has blamed Britain for creating a perpetual state of threat that the BBC 'cannot thrive' in.

Speaking at a Guardian Live panel debate on Wednesday, the Labour back-bencher and film producer said organisations can only flourish in an "atmosphere of confidence" - something that, under growing pressures from government, financial strain and rapid changes in viewer behaviour, is quickly diminishing at the BBC.

"Organisations do not thrive, or change, or get better, when they feel themselves threatened," said Puttnam, who has launched an independent inquiry into public service television.

"We have managed, in some bizarre way, to allow the BBC in the last 10-15 years to feel a permanently endangered, permanently threatened organisation. You will not get great television, you will not get great programming, and you will not get a healthy 21st century broadcaster in that environment."

With a funding shortfall of £150m to make up for in 2016-17, largely due to the faster-than-expected move to online viewing, the BBC has had to make 1,000 job cuts, move BBC Three wholly online - the BBC Trust confirmed today it will be switched off as a channel in February - and has lost the Olympic TV rights to Discovery following a deal worth £920 billion.

Meanwhile, under a Tory Government the Corporation is being forced to fork out £750m to fund the licence fee for over-75s.

Puttnam said that the "extraordinary pressure" that director general Tony Hall is under means that bringing about the changes that need to happen becomes "impossible".

"Tony Hall comes under such extraordinary pressure that he is actually not able to deliver the organisation that I think he wants to deliver - and that I think he probably knows how to deliver," he said.

"But you can't make change in an atmosphere where every single day you are running into a crisis."

Meaning of public service broadcasting 'needs reappropriating'

David Puttnam speaking

Speaking alongside Lord Puttnam on Wednesday, Luke Hyams, head of international content at Maker Studios, also called on industry to get behind the BBC and Channel 4 - and, going forwards, said that the onus is "on us" to make sure younger generations understand the value of public service broadcasting.

"We're at a time where we need to get behind the BBC and Channel 4 and reappropriate young people's vision of public service broadcasters," Hyams said, adding that a lot of young people are still unsure of what it means to be a PSB.

"On a lot of occasions I get asked: 'Is YouTube...or Instagram...or Periscope a PSB?', because these are things the public have access to that they can broadcast through, that they can share their opinions from, in various levels of creative ways."

While Hyams said that public service broadcasters do a number of things well - from high-production value, well-thought out dramas on Channel 4 and the BBC, to niche digital services such as 6Music and 1Xtra - he also noted areas which need improving.

Citing the BBC's news coverage of the 2011 London Riots, Hyams said when it comes to objective news the Corporation is often biased towards authority - something which young people are "sceptical" of.

"We have various challenges with respecting authority - whether it's the Tories making endless cuts, or the Murdoch press who have very unscrupulous means to get their stories - so I think what PSBs need to do is step aside from that, keep the objectivity, but really reassess what it means to be a PSB," he said.

As new subscription VOD players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to make waves, and young people increasingly view content online, Hyams also called for a reappraisal of the BBC licence fee and how it is perceived.

At around £11 a month, compared with £5.99 for Netflix and approximately £6.58 for Amazon Prime, Hyams said the licence fee "far exceeds" anything you get from any of the other subscription services currently on offer.

"At the same time though there is the feeling that you are having another tax, another bill imposed on your household that you don't really have a choice about... But if most young people don't have TVs and instead use laptops, we need to get the BBC to spend a lot more money online so we have much more of a justification to be able to charge for the licence fee.

"For us there are lots of reasons for the BBC to continue and we just need to work hard for that next generation to make sure they value it in the same way that we do."

Written by Ellen Hammett 

Source: Mediatel