BBC boss slams Ofcom proposals

The BBC Trust’s chairman Sir Michael Lyons is a diplomatic sort, and uses polite language, but at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch in London on Oct 15 he firmly told Ofcom to get back into its box over suggestions that the BBC should somehow or other gift ownership of BBC Worldwide to Channel 4. “Put aside for a moment whether this [suggestion] is actually legal,” he said, “in what way might this make business sense for BBC Worldwide or Channel 4?”

Sir Michael hinted that the BBC Trust had already taken legal advice on regulator Ofcom’s proposals. “BBC Worldwide primarily exists to exploit the secondary rights of BBC public service programming, not Channel 4. And besides,” he said pointedly, “BBC Worldwide belongs to licence fee payers, and not the government either.” He questioned what the thinking might have been behind Ofcom’s “extraordinary” proposals.

Ofcom is trying to seek a Public Service Broadcasting formula for the UK that would somehow direct around £100m of public cash towards financially stretched Channel 4, also publicly owned.

Sir Michael, in a courteous but extremely robust speech, said he felt the argument of this “top slicing” of the BBC’s licence fee income in favour of other broadcasters “had receded dramatically”. He praised Ofcom’s “brave attempt” to come up with possible solutions, but argued that “hasty moves to dismantle structures which have taken decades to mature in return for a quick financial gain might look tempting at first glance, but they have a habit of coming back with a bite.”

He bluntly said that Channel 4 needed to rein in its ambitions if the cash wasn’t available, and engage in constructive discussions with the BBC over such partnerships that could benefit both broadcasters, and that C4 should reduce its multi-channel ambitions.