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Lords slam Government's charter plans


Government plans for the BBC’s future are confusing and misguided, according to Lords select committee

: Government plans for the BBC's future will do nothing to reduce theCorporation's vulnerability to political pressure, according to a report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the BBC Charter Review.

The Chairman of the Committee, Lord Fowler, said: "The Green Paper, A strong BBC, independent of Government, fails to live up to its title. The procedure by which the BBC's Charter is agreed is entirely outdated. Crucial decisions affecting the BBC are taken by the Government alone. The Royal Charter - under which the BBC will operate for the next 10 years - will not be subject to proper Parliamentary scrutiny. There will be no bill and no vote on the terms of the Charter and the agreement that flows from it. The Government can easily ignore outside concerns - such as the widespread criticism of their proposals on BBC governance. The BBC cannot be truly independent of Government if Government alone has the power to decide its Charter."

The Committee's main findings and proposals are:

The BBC's Constitution

The process for agreeing the BBCs constitution should be open, transparent and not in the hands of any one political party. Therefore, the BBC should be established by statute rather than by Royal Charter.

The Licence Fee

BBCs funding until 2017 should be through a licence fee set in an open and transparent manner. Licence fee settlements above the rate of  inflation should only be agreed if there are exceptional reasons to justify them. The National Audit Office should take responsibility for evaluating the BBCs funding requirements.

Lord Fowler said: "It is difficult to see how the increase now being proposed can be justified. There is no reason why the licence fee payer should bear the cost of digital switchover given that the Government will make a substantial amount of money from the sale of the analogue spectrum.

"Paying for switchover through the licence fee will particularly hurt low income households."

Governance and Regulation

The BBC should be governed by a unitary board with a majority of  non-executives. The BBC Board should sit above a management committee headed by the Director-General.

The Chairman of the BBC should be chosen by a truly independent panel with a majority of non-political members and a chairman who is neither a politician nor a civil servant.

Ofcom should have the same regulatory responsibilities for BBC content as it has for other free-to-air public service broadcasters. Its Content Board should be significantly strengthened. It should adjudicate on appeals against decisions made by the BBC Board.

The BBC's fair trading rules should be subject to Ofcom's approval.

Lord Fowler said:

Plans for a BBC Trust to take over from the current Governors are ill-conceived. This model fails to separate governance and regulation of  the BBC, allowing the Corporation to remain judge and jury in its own case. Ofcom should provide independent regulation of the BBC's activities.

The Public Value Test

There should be a right of appeal to Ofcom if it is considered that the BBC has not paid due regard to the evidence obtained through the Public Value Test.

National Audit Office (NAO)

The NAO should have full rights of access to the BBC, as it does for other comparable public bodies, it should have the power to conduct and independently select the subject of value for money reviews.

The BBC World Service

The BBC has a world wide reputation for accurate and objective reporting. It has an important role to play abroad in providing impartial journalism where it is most needed. The Committee therefore welcome the recent announcements that the World Service will launch and Arabic language television service.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The members of the Committee who conducted this inquiry were:

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

Lord Kalms

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury

Lord King of Bridgewater

Lord Fowler (Chairman)

Lord Maxton 

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

The Bishop of Manchester

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

Baroness ONeil of Bengarve

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

Lord Peston

2. The report is published by the Stationery Office: Review of the BBC's Royal Charter Select Committee on BBC Charter Review, 1st Report, Session 2005-06 , HL Paper 50, ISBN 010 4007508, price £14.50.


DATELINE: 23 January, 2010