The BBC Trust model of governance is now bust, according to the shadow culture minister Chris Bryant.
Speaking at a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast in London, Mr Bryant said this had clearly been demonstrated by the events of the last few weeks. “The chair of the Trust either lipsyncs the director general or undermines him. That was true of Chis Patten and George Entwistle and it’s true of Rona [Fairhead] and Tony Hall.
“What we must do in any future governance is make sure we do not get a repetition of you will now pay for the over 75 TV licences.”
Bryant, whose post will need to be confirmed once a new leader of the Labour party is in place, said he would replace the Trust with a unitary board, sitting with non-executive directors, give the National Audit Office further powers towards the BBC, and hand the majority of regulation to Ofcom.
The latter point is in line with current proposals from the Conservative administration, though there is clear disagreement elsewhere.
Bryant called for the next BBC Charter to run for 11 years so that it was kept at a distance from the now fixed five-year term parliaments.
He said Whittingdale had been much more ferocious as the secretary of state than he was during his spell as chairman of the committee for culture, media and sport. “He signed a report earlier this year that said the process they went through in 2010 of forcing the BBC to take on World Service and S4C was disgraceful and should never happen again and the public should be involved and parliament and that’s just the process they’ve been through.”
Bryant said it was difficult to pull together the events of the past few weeks as to whether it was Whittingdale or the outwardly hostile chancellor George Osbourne who was leading the process. “John Whittingdale is considerably weakened, because either he is the same person he was in January, February, March or he is a completely different person.”
Asked by Broadband TV News about the BBC’s involvement in local online content, which the government accuses of undermining local newspapers Bryant said that if anything, the corporation had become more metropolitan.
“My local newspaper, the Rhonda Leader, has gone from 44,000 to 4,000 in 15 years. The reason for that is because 15 years ago if you wanted to sell a house or a car or see photos of your kids on St David’s Day at school you bought the local newspaper. Nobody does that now. Actually, Facebook is the source of local news in my community.”
Bryant said it was difficult to find factual news about what the councils were doing, when the only real source was Facebook, where his experience was some of it was true.