The BBC’s embattled general director Tony Hall warned today that planned changes to the public broadcaster’s structure represent a threat to its independence. In a speech to the Enders media conference, Hall said the BBC “needs new safeguards for independence, not yet more erosion”.
His speech comes days after an independent inquiry led by David Clementi argued for the BBC Trust, which currently regulates the BBC, to be abolished and replaced by an independent media regulator such as Ofcom. The report, which forms part of the UK government’s review of the BBC charter, if implemented would rep and end to 94 years of self-regulation at the BBC. Clementi has previously served as chairman of Virgin Money and Prudential, as well as deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Instead, Hall, who has largely accepted the report’s findings, offered one major caveat: over the mooted possibility of the government to have the power to appoint members to the BBC’s proposed new operational board. Instead, according to Hall, the BBC should, “be arguing for a transparent and independent process, at arms-length from the government” and “safe even from any accusation of political influence, interference or pressure.”
It’s been a rough time of late for the BBC. A damning report last week by Dame Janet Smith criticized the organization for its handling of the serial pedophile and child abuser Jimmy Savile through his years as a presenter at the BBC. Last year, the corporation had to announce cuts of more than 1,000 jobs as part of a restructuring caused by a $234 million gap in license-fee income for 2016-2017 as well as face a bill in excess of $1 billion for new welfare charges. The public broadcaster was also asked to absorb the cost of the license fee for viewers over age 75 as the government shifted the cost, previously covered by the Department for Work and Pensions, off its books.
The pubcaster remains under pressure to find alternative ways to fund its operations. A report last year from the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said the TV license is “becoming harder and harder to justify.”
The Conservative government is thought to be hawkish towards the BBC and in favour of making significant savings to the iconic broadcaster. David Cameron’s surprise majority victory in the May general elections last year has led to increased speculation as to his plans. BBC political editor Nick Robinson revealed that Cameron threatened/joked with reporters while on a campaign bus that he was “going to close them down after the election.” Though believed to have been made in jest, the threat of closure was an ominous harbinger of what lies ahead for the BBC.