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17.05.2016

The BBC White Paper is not bad news at all

by Martin Hoffmann
Martin Hoffman is ECPMF’s researcher and an expert on the funding and supervision of public service broadcasting, which is the subject of his PhD research. This is his personal opinion, not the view of the ECPMF.

Martin Hoffmann Martin Hoffmann

The White Paper is not the worst thing that could happen to the BBC. Currently Public Service Media (PSM) all over Europe is in danger of losing people’s support, with dozens of reports, surveys and assessments calling for abolition or strong cutbacks. A clear definition of the BBC´s tasks and focus, such as John Whittingdale´s demand to be “more distinctive”, can help to ensure long lasting support for one of the world´s most appreciated, but also most expensive PSM, the BBC.

In the 21st century´s media environment Public Service Media finds itself in competition with real-time-news provided by Twitter, Snapchat and Youtube, with blogging niche-experts, special-interest-channels and a newspaper industry fighting to survive. There is a bigger chance of saving PSMs’ future when people can recognize at first glance the difference in agenda setting, format and, independent quality journalism. The BBC still has an excellent reputation for this – and that legitimises its further existence more than the ability to produce some funky game-show or raunchy broadcasts which private channels can do just as well (and which might put the BBC to risk of becoming just one more of the same).

However the White Paper (new law) recommends outsourcing of productions, which can´t be for good of the BBC and its staff. By taking down the quotas of in-house-productions (excluding news and current affairs) and opening it to competition, to “the creative sector”, the social security of BBC-staff is put at risk on the long run. This also affects the ability to develop content that is “distinctive” and of “high-quality” within the institution. These kind of recommendations are potentially threatening and have to be checked carefully, when Royal Charter is published later on.

While waiting for the final design of funding and boards the voices of alarm - claiming the BBCis in danger of becoming a state broadcaster - might calm down. There is no strong interference indicated, such as the cutting of the licence fee, and the attempt to decrease the independence from politics is not severe.
The restructuring of governing boards following the report published in March by David Clementi might even be helpful, as the BBC Trust was not very effective as a governing body. By assuring that BBC will be able to appoint half of the board members, there is no increased danger of political interference. Also because four of the six non-PSM- members to be appointed by the government are nominated by the four British nations, informal alliances seem quite improbable.

The engagement of Ofcom as a professional and independent regulatory authority checking on editorial standards and arbitrating complaints is good news, too. Accountability and so the proof of independence and quality will be one of the biggest goals PSM like the BBC will have on their side, when the next White Paper is written eleven years from now.



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