On 12 May, culture secretary John Whittingdale revealed his white paper on the future of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Commenting on the announcement, the Co-operative Party‘s general secretary, Claire McCarthy, said that the white paper represented a “missed opportunity” to deliver the “fundamental change” required to secure the broadcaster’s future. Last year the Party launched a campaign to mutualise the BBC to secure its independence and sustainability.
Some of the proposals made include asking the corporation to publish the names of all employees and freelancers paid more than £450,000. The white paper also requires the BBC to be “distinctive, high quality and impartial”, adding that popularity should “not be the primary measure of success”. The charter will be extended to 11 years in an attempt to remove it from the political electoral cycle.
Another change envisioned in the new charter is the abolishment of the BBC Trust, which will be replaced with a new unitary board of 12-14 members. The government will appoint the chair and deputy chair and members for each of the four nations of the UK and the BBC itself will appoint the remaining members. The white paper also requires the BBC to address diversity issues and focus more on under-served audiences. BBC World Service will receive extra funding of £289m of government funding available over this spending review period.
Another amendment will see the National Audit Office, the official auditor of the BBC, replace Ernst and Young, its current auditor. NAO reports to MPs on the National Accounts Committee. Ofcom, the communications regulator, will also have the responsibility for dealing with complaints about the corporation’s impartiality and accuracy.
Licence fee funding will continue but the current fee of £145.50 a year will rise in line with inflation from 2017 to 2022.
“The Paper conflates questions of regulation and accountability, leaving the BBC in the hands of unaccountable regulators and appointees, and questions over the BBC’s ownership, democratic deficit and independence unresolved,” said Ms McCarthy.
“Everyone agrees that BBC must be more accountable to those who pay for it. But measures such as the publication of senior staff salaries are no more than window dressing as long as power lies with a Board which the government and BBC are able to pack with carefully selected appointees.”
The party welcomed the white paper’s plans to increase diversity, the additional funding for the World Service and its move to an 11-year charter period. However, it argued the white paper “misses the point”.
“These kinds of decisions should lie in the hands of those who watch and use the BBC’s services and be subject to democratic scrutiny. Instead, they are the product of opaque negotiations between ministers and senior BBC staff, lacking formal input from parliament or licence fee payers,” added Ms McCarthy.
“The Co-operative Party, via our People’s BBC campaign, will continue to make the case for a BBC that is genuinely accountable and independent. We believe that both objectives can only truly be met by giving those who own the BBC – its viewers, staff and listeners – democratic control over the Corporation and a voice of their own in the rooms where decisions are made.”