24/02/2004

Tory-commissioned report recommends removal of BBC Charter

Far-reaching change, including the abolition of the licence fee and the removal of the BBC's Royal Charter, has been proposed in a report commissioned by the Conservative Party.

Chaired by former television executive David Elstein, The Broadcasting Policy Group report, ‘Beyond The Charter’, recommends a series of measures intended to provide “a comprehensive solution to the many different problems currently confronting the BBC”.

The package of proposals includes: abolition of the Board of Governors; division of the BBC departments; introduction of subscription charging for BBC television services; creation of a new Public Broadcasting Authority to distribute public funds to all public service broadcasters; and the end of the television licence fee

Mr Elstein said: "The Government rightly insists that the charter review process must make the BBC both strong and independent.

"We came to the conclusion that this objective could be achieved only through radical change. Arrangements devised in 1926 are not going to be capable of sustaining the world's most important broadcaster in the challenging times ahead."

The report singled out the licence fee as “the root of many current and potential difficulties,” maintaining that, since its level is set by Government, the BBC is vulnerable to both market forces and a Government that may wish to punish the corporation by curbing its income. The group believes that the licence fee should be gradually phased out, to be replaced by subcription charges – a proposal made practical by the Government’s planned analogue switch off in 2010.

A recommendation that will please the BBC’s competitors proposes that public money raised while the licence fee persists should be distributed by a new Public Broadcasting Authority, with all broadcasters with public service commitments eligible for funding.

The group also found that programme production and distribution should be removed from BBC control, and, citing “the shortcomings of the BBC's current governance arrangements [which were] amply demonstrated during the Gilligan affair,” proposes the abolition of the Board Of Governors and that the current Royal Charter should not be renewed.

Instead, the BBC's assets should be transferred at midnight on December 31 2006 to a new public corporation, also called the British Broadcasting Corporation but modelled on Channel 4. Ownership would be vested in the communications regulator, Ofcom, with a mixed board of executive and non-executive directors.

Thereafter, regulation would be effected by mixture of the “consumer sovereignty” implicit in subscription funding, the disbursement powers of the Public Broadcasting Authority, and the regulatory procedures of Ofcom.

In addition to Mr Elstein the five-strong panel includes David Cox, a television producer, Barbara Donoghue, a banker specialising in communications, David Graham, who heads a broadcasting research company and Geoff Metzger, the managing director of The History Channel.

(GB)

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