UK Government Unveils BBC Reforms; License Fee Remains, BBC Trust Scrapped, Worst Fears Unfounded…For Now

After months of at-times frenzied speculation, the UK government has finally published its white paper of reforms for the BBC, and the results are better than the doomsayers had feared. At its heart is a desire for the BBC to place “distinctive content” at the center of its focus. The new charter for the BBC will run for 11 years. The current charter, which ran for 10 years, runs out at the end of this year. The additional year is designed to keep the negotiations on the next one outside the election cycle, which customarily takes place at a maximum of every five years.

The new charter keeps in place the license fee as the “the most appropriate funding model” for now, with the seven-year freeze on the fee actually lifted to enable it to be pegged to rises in inflation. There is an acknowledgement, however, that the fee is “likely to become less sustainable” in the future.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale, in the news recently himself following salacious revelations about his private life, unveiled details of the new charter in front of a packed Parliament. He made clear that, despite fears to the contrary, the BBC’s editorial independence would be safeguarded. But, he added, the public broadcaster must be wary of adversely impacting its commercial competitors in the UK.

As was expected, the BBC Trust, the self-regulatory body previously charged with overseeing the BBC, will be scrapped. It will be replaced by Ofcom as an external, independent regulator. People watching BBC programs on-demand online, such as via the popular iPlayer, will be required to have a TV licence. The BBC will need to put “greater focus to underserved audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds and from the nations and regions which are currently less well served.” The broadcaster will have a new mission statement, “To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

The BBC World Service’s annual funding of £254 million will be protected for five years and, as announced last year, it will get an extra £289M of government funding over the current Parliament.

“These reforms will embolden the BBC to take risks, to create confidently and unashamedly the highest quality, distinctive content for all audiences. It will provide the foundations for a stronger, more independent, more distinctive BBC that will inform, educate and entertain for many years to come,” said Whittingdale.

“This white paper delivers a mandate for the strong, creative BBC the public believe in,” said BBC director general Tony Hall. “A BBC that will be good for the creative industries — and most importantly of all, for Britain.”

Additionally, all managers earning more than £150,000 and talent earning more than £450,000 would need to have their salaries published. The new charter will commence in 2017.

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