MPs slam 'arrogant' BBC Trust

Wednesday, September 23 2009,

MPs have criticised the BBC Trust's "arrogance" after it dismissed concerns over the commercial activities of BBC Worldwide.

The condemnation was recorded in a report issued today by the Commons culture select committee, which launched an investigation into Worldwide earlier in the year, reports The Guardian.

A particular area of concern for MPs was the Trust's approval of Worldwide's purchase of Lonely Planet, which was viewed as the BBC venturing into non-broadcast areas. Sky chairman James Murdoch recently described the acquisition as a "nationalisation" of the travel guide publisher during his fierce broadside of the BBC operation.

"We were especially concerned about the apparent arrogance of the BBC Trust who appeared to believe they had no case to answer," the MPs wrote.

"The purchase of Lonely Planet remains the most egregious example of the nature of BBC Worldwide's expansion into areas where the BBC has no, or very limited, existing interests."

The MPs also criticised the Trust for not fully revealing financial details of the deal for Lonely Planet, noting that the corporation is "not as transparent" as it claims.

They said that the BBC's response to the investigation back in April was "not coherent", and also accused the Trust of using speculation around a possible merger between Worldwide and Channel 4 over the summer as "an excuse" to avoid seriously replying to the committee.

"We are disappointed that the BBC Trust appears to have used [the merger talk] as an excuse to avoid responding to a number of our wider recommendations", said the report.

"As a consequence, the BBC Trust's response cannot be regarded as a coherent response to the Committee's report."

Last week, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw also criticised the Trust, saying that it can no longer act as both a "regulator and cheerleader" for the BBC.

In statement issued today, the Trust stressed that it launched its own review into Worldwide's operation well "in advance of both the Committee's work and the Digital Britain report".

Back in March, the organisation published its interim conclusions on the review, which noted that changes were required to "BBC Worldwide's detailed control framework to establish a more contained focus for its operations".

The statement continued: "The Trust said that it would publish its final review once the role of BBC Worldwide in the Digital Britain discussions was clear. Given this timetable we welcomed the committee's report in April, co-operated with their enquiry and responded as fully as we were able to at the time of its publication.

"In the meantime our work has continued on specific issues. The Trust last week announced changes to BBC Worldwide's governance which were reported to the committee. These changes addressed a number of the issues to which the Committee's latest report refers.

"Although the completion of our review of Worldwide has been delayed until there is greater clarity around the Digital Britain report, we are eager to complete this work and look forward to announcing further conclusions as soon as possible."

BBC director general Mark Thompson recently revealed that the review of Worldwide would also assess whether the commercial arm needs to be 100% owned by the corporation in the future.