Ministers to unveil ‘major BBC overhaul’

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Plans for a “major overhaul” of how the BBC is run are expected to be unveiled in a government White Paper later.

The trust governing the BBC is expected to be abolished, and a new board set up to run day-to-day matters, while Ofcom will become its external regulator.

Ministers will say that the licence fee will continue for at least 11 years and in future viewers will need to pay it to use BBC iPlayer catch-up services.

And they will say details of some stars’ salaries should be made public.

The BBC’s current royal charter – the agreement which sets the BBC’s rules and purpose – expires at the end of December and a public consultation into its future was launched last year.

Diversity measure

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who is in charge of overseeing the charter renewal, will unveil a government White Paper later setting out detailed plans for the BBC’s future. It is expected to:

  • Confirm the licence fee, currently set at £145.50 a year, will run for another 11 years and rise in line with inflation from 2017 until 2022
  • Announce salaries of stars earning more than £450,000 will be made public
  • Set out plans for a “new, strong unitary board” in charge of the BBC – with some government appointments, but at least half of board members decided by the broadcaster
  • Confirm that media regulator Ofcom will now take on the role of final arbiter on complaints about impartiality and accuracy, which at the moment are handled by the BBC Trust
  • Extend the charter renewal period to 11 years to avoid it clashing with election campaigns
  • “Enshrine” diversity measures in the charter to ensure the corporation reflects audiences – both on and off screen

BBC media correspondent David Sillito said what was really interesting were “the things that aren’t appearing in the White Paper”.

“No sign yet of ‘top slicing’ – giving money away to other rival broadcasters. No mention of meddling in the schedules – telling the BBC when it can or can’t put Strictly Come Dancing on on a Saturday night.”

Q&A: White Paper on the BBC’s future

New base for BBC Three in Birmingham

Reports earlier this year had suggested Mr Whittingdale was considering allowing commercial broadcasters to challenge the BBC over peak-time scheduling – a claim that was denied – and planning to use some of the licence fee to fund children’s programmes on commercial channels.

Previous reports also claimed the BBC would have to scale back online services, including losing recipe pages and travel features. The BBC said such claims were “speculation”.

There was also concern that the government was planning to appoint the majority of members to the new unitary board, which critics said would turn the BBC into a state broadcaster.

‘Complete fantasy’

At Sunday night’s TV Bafta awards, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky was one of a number of award-winners who defended the independence of the BBC, claiming it was “under threat”.

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AFP / Getty

Image caption

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale will make a statement to MPs about plans for the BBC’s future

Newsnight’s political editor Nicholas Watt said it appeared that George Osborne and David Cameron had intervened, and “basically reigned in the culture department”.

Sources suggested the government “has decided it doesn’t want another row – it’s got the junior doctors on its back, it’s got the teachers on its back”, he said.

“And the crucial thing they want to be able to say tomorrow is, yes we are protecting the BBC’s historic independence.”

However, there were expected to be some “minor tweaks” to the BBC’s defining purpose to “inform, educate and entertain”, he added.

The new charter aims to make sure BBC services “evolve over the next decade and continue to meet the needs of its audiences”, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said.

Mr Whittingdale, speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, said media reports ahead of the publication of the paper had ranged from “complete fantasy” to “quite well-informed”, adding: “But certainly not informed by me or my department.”

In an email on Wednesday, BBC director general Tony Hall told staff it was a “big moment” for the corporation.

He said the BBC must have a “certainty of funding, as well as control over its own revenue streams”, and any changes “must protect the independence of the BBC”.

Ministers to unveil ‘major BBC overhaul’


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