bbc new broadcasting house
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The debate around public service broadcasting in the UK has been shaped by a green paper consultation launched by the government in July, as the BBC's Royal Charter is set to expire at the end of 2016.

It outlines four main themes concerning the broadcaster's future: the BBC's role; its scale and scope in the UK's creative industry and as a public service; funding; and how it should be governed.

Representatives from the government and the BBC discussed key priorities for the future of the broadcaster at a Westminster Media Forum seminar in London yesterday.

Hugh Harris, director of media, international, gambling and creative economy for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday that one of the concerns highlighted in the green paper was the "changing media environment" and how this reflected on BBC output.

"The implications [for the BBC] are somewhat contested," Harris said.

The question is not 'it's broke, how do we fix it', but rather, 'it works, how do we sustain it'James Heath, BBC
"There are those who say that as a result of this change, a need for the BBC has never been stronger, but also those who argue that with the increased choice available to people, some questions should be asked about what the BBC should be delivering in that context."

The consultation also touches on how the BBC should prioritise its mission to educate, inform and entertain and create a set of values, such as independence, impartiality and transparency.

The green paper received 190,000 responses from the public, said Harris – the main findings, as well as a white paper with the final recommendations will be published in the spring.

The white paper will analyse the growth of BBC services in the last 20 years and their impact on other broadcasters in the market and if the content it produces meets the needs of the overall audience, not just a particular sector.

Recently, a row between ITV news executives and the BBC escalated as BBC1 anchor Huw Edwards posted on social media highlighting the BBC's 4.4 million audience figures for the News at Ten programme, in contrast with the 2.2 million people who watched ITV's revamped 10pm news bulletin.

The BBC has also been criticised for "failing to take enough risks" in its reporting and coverage of current affairs.


The government has three suggestions for how the BBC could be funded in the longer term: continuing with the licence fee, but adjusting it to include content from iPlayer; a universal household levy, such as the one introduced by Germany in 2013; or a hybrid model where people would pay a fee for core BBC services and an optional subscription for additional channels.

James Heath, director of policy and charter, BBC, said the charter review is "about something bigger than the BBC, it's an opportunity to modernise and support public broadcasting and storytelling".

"The question is not 'it's broke, how do we fix it', but rather, 'it works, how do we sustain it'."

Heath added that to maintain stability, he believes the licence fee remains the best way to fund BBC services.

Finding the right balance between producing and delivering domestic and international output is also outlined in the green paper, as well as changing the current relationship between the BBC's public service arm and its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

BBC Worldwide is 100 per cent owned by the BBC – its business model relies on commissioning programmes and formats from the BBC and some 250 independent producers in other countries and reinvesting the profits back in the UK.

David Moody, director of strategy, BBC Worldwide, said Worldwide and the public arm of the BBC are "operationally separate", but share a "common strategy" set up by the BBC Trust to ensure its activities "don't jeopardise the BBC brand or distort the market".

But there are concerns that if a considerable amount of funding is coming from international commissioning of content, it will affect the way in which BBC output is produced, the topics it addresses and ultimately, its duty to serve primarily a UK audience.

Governance and regulation

Alex Towers, director of the BBC Trust, said that if the BBC becomes a state broadcaster, rather than an independent national broadcaster, "it loses its purpose".

Last month, the Trust published its response to the government's green paper, after conducting its own public consultation with over 40,000 people.

"If I had to summarise all our research into one sentence, I'd say the public doesn't really want anyone mucking about with the BBC and they're quite protective of it," Towers said.

We need to get the degree of separation right between those who are running the BBC and those who are regulating itAlex Towers, BBC Trust
He said 56 per cent of people said they wanted the BBC to provide more content, as opposed to 7 per cent who wanted less, according to quantitative research conducted by ICM between 28 August and 13 September 2015.

The study quoted by Towers also revealed that eighty one per cent of those surveyed wanted the BBC to act independently of the government, while two thirds thought it was important for the BBC to continue developing its services on new online platforms.

Tower said the Trust has been, in practice, "trying to act more as the conscience of the BBC", but "it works less well in a crisis situation where responsibilities and decisions need to be taken quickly".

"By the time something has gone wrong, it's not always clear who should step in to fix it and who should be accountable."

In light of the new changes proposed by the government, the Trust could be reformed or completely scrapped and a new independent regulatory body could be introduced, although no final decisions have been made yet.

There is also a possibility to broaden the Office of Communications' (Ofcom) regulatory powers over the the BBC – the body currently looks after licence fee funded television and radio services in the UK and any output broadcast by the BBC commercial arm in the UK or to international audiences from the UK.

But Towers said he is worried the Trust's editorial standards have a different scope to those set by Ofcom, and that a new independent regulatory body should be able to assess whether the public's expectations are being met, the affordability of the licence fee and people's likeliness to pay.

"We need to get the degree of separation right between those who are running the BBC and those who are regulating it."

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