Last week, Parliament discussed BBC White Paper. The White Paper sets out the Government’s proposals for the next BBC Royal Charter, to replace the current charter, which expires in December.
As I wrote when the Government first published the White Paper, the BBC is one of the most successful and celebrated British institutions, appreciated in the UK and around the world. This Charter renewal process should have been a time to show our support for the BBC as it continues to produce world-leading content. However, while the Government has backtracked on many of its proposals, the threats to the BBC’s financial and editorial independence, alongside changes to the BBC’s Core Mission, still give cause for concern.
On editorial independence, the Labour Party has made it clear that it is not acceptable for the new unitary board, which will have influence over the BBC’s output, to have up to half of its members appointed by the Government. This paves the way for Government interference in the day-to-day decision-making of the BBC and critically damages the BBC’s editorial independence.
The BBC’s financial independence depends on its ability to control license fee revenues. Although I welcome the Government decision to stop the top-slicing of these revenues, the White Paper proposes creating a contestable pot of licence fee payers’ money, worth £20 million a year over three years.
The BBC’s Core Mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ has worked well for over 90 years. The Government’s proposed change to the Core Mission to include ‘an explicit requirement to be distinctive, high-quality and impartial’ hints at a move towards decision-making based on the output of the BBC’s commercial rivals. The devil will be in the detail of the final proposals, but I will firmly oppose any attempts to water down the BBC’s unique role as a public service broadcaster.
A draft Charter is expected before summer recess in late July. The Government should put their proposals through proper parliamentary scrutiny to reassure those of us who care about the future of the BBC that they recognise its importance to British life.
27 June 2016