Government publishes BBC Online review

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has given the BBC just under four months to redefine the remit for its online services, following the publication today of the findings of a major independent review.

Tessa Jowell said she found Philip Graf's review into BBC Online "authoritative and constructive".

The review, which was commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will feed into the on-going wider review of the BBC's Royal Charter.

Philip Graf's review includes recommendations that: the remit and the strategic objectives which guide BBC Online should be clearly defined around public purposes and communicated to the public and wider market; a deliberate "precautionary approach" to BBC Online investment should be introduced. If there is a "close call" between the public service benefits of a proposed BBC Online service and the costs of that service, the proposal should not be taken forward; the current regulation of the BBC's online services should be reinforced by the appointment of two governors - one with specific new media expertise and one with specific competition law expertise; the Governors should have access to independent analytical advice on issues such as market impact; at least 25% of online content (excluding news) should be supplied by external and/or independent suppliers by the time the current Royal Charter expires at the end of 2006; and BBC Online should prioritise news, current affairs, education and information which is of value to the citizen. Within these areas, it should prioritise innovative, rich, interactive content.

While Tessa Jowell has not attached any new conditions to BBC Online at this stage, she has given the BBC's Board of Governors until the end of October 2004 to make a full response to the review. This should include a redrafted version of BBC Online's remit, together with a statement of how the BBC intends to involve the independent sector as identified in the report. She will consider the need for further conditions when she has received the BBC's response.

Tessa Jowell said: "The Internet has changed beyond recognition since BBC Online was granted approval in 1998. Through it's much respected and trusted website, the BBC has played an integral role in that evolution.

"I am now looking to the BBC's Governors to ensure that BBC Online remains a key player in the future. This will mean developing the service to take account of the vastly different technological landscape it now operates in.

"Philip's excellent report provides some constructive pointers for how they can do this. It is now up to the Governors to respond on how they plan to redefine the purposes and aims of BBC Online, so that they are more closely aligned to the public service remit of the BBC.

"I will then consider what further action needs to be taken, whether as part of, or externally to, the on-going Charter Review."

Philip Graf said: "My aim was to produce a report that would give a fair and accurate portrayal of the BBC Online service to date, and to give a reasoned view on where we might go from here.

"There is clearly great public affection and appreciation of BBC Online, so I hope that, in their interest, my conclusions provide constructive input to both the BBC and to the DCMS's Charter Review."

More generally, the online review found that BBC Online delivers high quality material in an effective and user-friendly manner. There are, however, a number of changes, which could improve the experience for users, deliver efficiency, and ensure that the site effectively reflects BBC Online's priorities.


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