October 8, 2015

It’s odd, isn’t it, that when you search on the gov.uk consultations page for open consultations in the area of “arts and culture” the website returns no results.  If instead you set the search fields to “all” and the filter to “BBC” you will find that there is indeed one open consultation.  Personally I would put a consultation by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the future of the BBC firmly into the “arts and culture” bracket, but let’s not draw our conclusions too early.

The consultation closes today, 8th October at 11.45pm.  I urge you to respond if you can: there is an electronic form here or you can send an email to BBCCharterReviewConsultation@culture.gov.uk.

The consultation document comes, curiously, in a choice of portrait or landscape formats, and, for once, in English or Welsh without the requirement for the Welsh-speaker to ask separately.

The front cover of the document also suggests a hashtag, #yourBBC, which on my twitter feed opens with a “promoted tweet” (an advert) for, ironically, Amazon Instant Video.  The hashtag itself seems to contain a lot of tweets urging people to respond to the BBC Trust’s own consultation which apparently closed in September, and a number of comments regarding the “confusing, misleading” questions in the current consultation.  I have also had emails from the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees urging me to complete the consultation and offering a version of the form which contains 38 Degrees’ annotations explaining the questions and suggesting the kind of areas you might want to stress in your answers.  The annotated survey is available here: on the one hand I think it’s useful to have large numbers of people responding so that the government understands that the BBC really is “our BBC” but on the other I think there is a danger that large numbers of responses channelled through one campaign website may be ignored.

So let’s have a look at the actual condoc and see what’s proposed, shall we?

There are 158 pages (did they really expect many people to read it?) and there are four themes:

  • “Mission, purpose and values” (or, why have a BBC at all)
  • “Scale and scope” (or, what should the BBC actually do)
  • “Funding” (or, how are we going to pay for it) and
  • “Governance” (or, who is in charge)

I’m very much a Reithian as far as the BBC is concerned.  The BBC’s purpose is to inform, educate and entertain. As to scale and scope, I believe you should be able to sit and watch BBC1 and see some of everything: the exact opposite of the self-curated internet bubbles we all seem to live in where it is quite possible to see only things with which you are already familiar and discuss them with people with whom you already agree.  Funding: the licence fee works, although it should perhaps be modernised to reflect the wired world we live in.  Make it payable at a reduced rate by household, but with the reduction paid for by a small levy on the sale of new phones, tablets and computers, and make non-payment a civil and not criminal offence.  Governance?  I’m less fussed about how the board is constructed than by who is on it.  Personally I’d love to be on the Board (I’m not completely a fantasist: I have been a tv critic in my time and did some work for the Fawcett Society and NAWO on the Broadcasting Act before last) but can’t see it ever happening.  I would like to see the Board made up of representatives of actual viewers as well as of the so-called Great And Good.

So now you know my opinions, how did I get on with the consultation itself.

I completed the online survey (not via 38 Degrees website)

There are nineteen questions across the four themes where the annotated 38 Degrees version has only eight.  I found the annotated version useful to give a steer as to the leading nature of the questions and if you’re short of time I’d suggest answering via their website is better than nothing.  Here are the 19 questions and my answers in full.

1. How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve?

I don’t agree there’s a lack of clarity at present. The BBC should inform, educate and entertain.

2. Which elements of universality are most important for the BBC?

This is a poorly-expressed question! The BBC should provide a service where, if any British citizen were to have access ONLY to the BBC’s output, they could take an informed part in civil society and in the conversations of their neighbours. This includes the provision of excellent subtitling and audio description services for those with hearing and sight problems.

3. Should Charter Review formally establish a set of values for the BBC?

No. The BBC already has a set of values embodied in its history of informing, educating and entertaining the nation.

4. Is the expansion of the BBC’s services justified in the context of increased choice for audiences? Is the BBC crowding out commercial competition and, if so, is this justified?

Yes! As to “crowding out”, the glory of the British broadcasting ecology is that there is competition, not just between commercial companies with the same profit-seeking motive, but between differently funded organisations. So if the commercial broadcasters feel “crowded out” by the BBC, then good! Let them compete by doing better, not by whining about the competition.

5. Where does the evidence suggest the BBC has a positive or negative wider impact on the market?

In the programmes! In the history of different funding models in different countries, where the UK model is widely seen as excelling.

6. What role should the BBC have in preparing for the future technological landscape including in future radio switchover?

Commercial providers tend to drop a new technology onto the market and let consumers sink or swim in operating it. The BBC has a history of informing and educating (the BBC micro, for example) which should continue. They shouldn’t have to bear the costs of the commercial broadcasters, though!

7. How well is the BBC serving its national and international audiences?

Brilliantly (except its subtitling, which could do with some serious thought)

8. Does the BBC have the right genre mix across its services?


9. Is the BBC’s content sufficiently high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters? What reforms could improve it?

It is sufficiently high quality. Why does its content have to be “distinctive” from other broadcasters? It isn’t broken – don’t try to fix it. Politicians should keep their hands off.

10. How should the system of content production be improved through reform of quotas or more radical options?

Talk about your leading question! The BBC should – and does – have a mix of London and non-London production, of English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish production, and of independents and in-house production. Again, leave it alone please.

11. How should we pay for the BBC and how should the licence fee be modernised?

Again, what a leading question! Yes, we should pay for the BBC via the licence fee. Yes, it should be modernised by making it a civil rather than criminal offence not to pay, and there should be a reorganisation so that it is levied by household, not television, with a slightly lower licence per household supplemented by a small levy added to the cost of a new phone, tablet or computer.

12. Should the level of funding for certain services or programmes be protected? Should some funding be made available to other providers to deliver public service content?

Absolutely not! Politicians should agree the funding settlement for the BBC and then leave it alone. And under no circumstances should licence fee money go to “other providers”.

13. Has the BBC been doing enough to deliver value for money? How could it go further?

Yes. Leave it alone.

14. How should the BBC’s commercial operations, including BBC Worldwide, be reformed?

Another appallingly leading question! They should not. They aren’t broken. They don’t need “reform”, you are just getting pressure from commercial rivals which you should resist.

15. How should the current model of governance and regulation for the BBC be reformed?

It is not clear to me that it should! Government should keep its hands off, and there should be more civil society representation on the Board perhaps but otherwise I can’t see a need for change, just an opportunity to meddle, which it would be better to resist.

16. How should Public Value Tests and Service Licences be reformed and who should have the responsibility for making these decisions?

You have not demonstrated a need for reform. The BBC is working well: leave it alone.

17. How could the BBC improve engagement with licence fee payers and the industry through research, transparency and complaints handling?

Does it need to “improve”? Its engagement is already high.

18. How should the relationship between Parliament, Government, Ofcom, the National Audit Office and the BBC work? What accountability structures and expectations, including financial transparency and spending controls should apply?

The BBC is not a government department. Parliament and Government set the terms of the Royal Charter and the licence fee and after that should leave the BBC alone. NAO might usefully ensure no corruption or maladministration creeps into the BBC’s systems and Ofcom should work with the BBC Trust. But I shudder at the thought of government “spending controls” on the BBC.

19. Should the existing approach of a 10-year Royal Charter and Framework Agreement continue?

Yes; except in future it should begin from the viewpoint that, if the BBC is working satisfactorily, government should leave it alone. In other words the ten year review should begin from a presumption that things will stay the same and that a strong evidence base is required before any changes are made.

One comment

  1. […] to count the responses, you’re doing it wrong.  They came in electronically – I know, I responded.  Computers can count stuff like that much faster than people.  Maybe, I don’t know, employ […]

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