Miliband proposes turning BBC into a mutual

The call by Labour leadership candidate David Miliband for the BBC to be turned into a co-operative has been welcomed by Co-operatives UK Secretary General Ed Mayo.

Mr Miliband, Shadow Foreign Secretary and the bookmakers’ favourite to take over as Labour leader in the autumn, floated the idea in an article written jointly with Shadow Minister for the Cabinet, Tessa Jowell, on the Progress website.

Said Mr Mayo: “It is brilliant to see such senior Labour voices raise the stakes in terms of the potential for co-operative action. The proposal addresses the current weakness of BBC governance, which leaves the organisation open to the unedifying spectacle of bullying by government. 

“If the BBC were answerable to members and licence payers in a democratic way, its independence would be strong.”

But Mr Mayo warned that such a fundamental change could not happen overnight. He told the News: “Making this happen could only take time because co-op membership is built from the bottom up, not the top down. Nevertheless it would be inspiring to see the public trust and sense of ownership of the BBC turned into genuine engagement and co-operative ownership.”

In the article, Mr Miliband and Ms Jowell say that, by becoming a co-operative, the BBC could lead the way in public service reform and give a real say to licence fee payers. They wrote: “This is a moment for mutualism, which offers us the opportunity to take collective action in step with individual aspiration, drawing on the values and practices of the Co-operative Movement and today’s Co-op Party.”

The former Cabinet colleagues call for mutual principles to become a key part of the UK’s banking and broadcasting sectors — including the remutualisation of Northern Rock — and say that mutuality could play a key role in strengthening the BBC’s democratic accountability. 

“Owned by the British public and paid for directly through the TV licence, it is only right that ordinary members of the public should have a real say in how it is run,” said Mr Miliband and Ms Jowell.

They added: “Under a mutual model, membership of the BBC could be open to everyone who pays the licence fee. Members could have the right to elect representatives to a members’ council that would elect a majority of members of the BBC Trust. This would give licence fee payers a way to a democratic voice in the priorities of the BBC.

“Greater public engagement with members could also take place via the website, to ensure the BBC was providing responsive services. 

“With those running the BBC directly accountable to their members, they would have a clear mandate to canvas licence fee payers on all major policy decisions. Ideas like this should be considered as major questions about the future of media policy are confronted in the coming months and years.”

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