BBC ramps up fight-back as UK Government lays down charter review terms

DetailsEditor | 17 July 2015

The gloves are most definitely off in the war of words between the BBC and the UK Government as the official terms of the consultation to decide its future have been released.

Just as new UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale was addressing Parliament, the BBC mounted a publicity campaign —led by global stars including Dame Judy Dench and Daniel Craig —reminding licence fee payers what they get from the broadcaster.

The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter, with the current one due to expire at the end of 2016. The UK Government's consultation, which will lead to the publishing of a green paper, is the first stage of the process in setting a new charter. Its aim is to set out issues to make sure the BBC remains a valued public broadcaster. It will last 12 weeks for the public and industry to feed in views.

The consultation will set out four broad issues for public discussion: the BBC's mission, purpose and values; the scale and scope of the BBC's services and operations; the way in which the BBC is funded; and its governance and accountability. As it began the review process, the UK Government accepted that in the ten years since the last settlement the BBC has adapted to an increasingly changing landscape, remains much-loved by audiences, and is a valuable engine of growth and an international benchmark for television, radio, online and journalism. Yet the Government warned that there need to be some hard questions asked during the charter review, such as what should the BBC be trying to achieve in an age where consumer choice is now far more extensive than it has been; what its scale and scope should be in the light of those aims; how far it affects others in television, radio and online; and what are the right structures for its governance and regulation.

Funding is inevitably the most contentious issue at stake. The government noted that the current BBC licence fee was "regressive, set at a flat rate and ... not adjusted for different household incomes." It also added that it was set at a very different time in broadcasting, drawn up when the iPlayer did not even exist and that large amounts of people now access television exclusively online and without a licence.

"The BBC is a national institution, paid for by the public. It will have spent more than £30 billion of public money over the current charter period," Whittingdale added. "Everyone must be able to have their say on how well they think that money is spent. This consultation gives them that opportunity. It also invites them to comment on how the BBC is governed. This publication is an important first step in an open and thorough charter review. It sets out the issues and some of the options for change. I want it to stimulate a national debate over the coming months as we map out the future for our BBC."