Dumbing down fears as BBC waters down factual TV commitment

Editor | 30-11-2012

Fears are emerging of erosion in the quality of BBC TV output following the publication of the BBC Trust’s review of service licences.

The Trust whose Chairman Chris Patten is just recovering from being grilled by UK parliamentarians for his role in the appointment and resignation of hapless former Director General George Entwistle, says the move will show how it is committed the BBC is to simplifying its framework in governing services and making service licences its primary tool for governing the BBC’s output.

Among the key changes that the BBC Trust proposes are updating the aims and objectives for BBC Three and BBC Four by removing references to driving digital TV take-up. Yet most significantly, it also includes removing the numeric condition for new factual programmes on BBC One and BBC Two.

Even though The Trust accepts that the BBC has obligations to offer clarity to the market regarding the scope of BBC One and BBC Two it insists that the condition for factual programmes is not “useful” in its governance of BBC services and that removal of the condition fits with its principle that “numeric conditions are only used where they are necessary as well as the qualitative commitments in the licences.”

The move which will inevitably cause consternation among viewers worried about dumbing down of BBC TV, has already attracted criticism for those involved in the review. Having solicited the confidential opinion of two individuals and from six organisations who are either competitors or stakeholders in particular parts of the BBC’s output on the review, both individual respondents and one organisation objected to the removal of the factual condition for BBC One and BBC Two.

Specifically the members of the public were concerned that it could lead to an erosion of the quality of the channels, based on concerns they already had about the services. One industry stakeholder was opposed to the removal of the condition as it considers it part of the Trust’s framework for measuring delivery of public service programming.

The move also coincides with the unveiling by BBC Worldwide Channels of its first fully-funded global production for BBC Entertainment. The new series is the business’s first fully-funded production with an independent production company since the announcement in September to treble the number of original programme hours ordered for its international audience.