BBC Decision a Blow to Ofcom's Empire-Building Ambitions

03 March 2005

To the surprise of many the Blair administration has ignored the torrent of commercial lobbying to hobble the UK's state-owned British Broadcasting Corporation.

Following an extensive review of the BBC's funding and structure, culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell told parliament on Wednesday that the broadcaster will continue to be financed by public licence fee over the next ten years.

The BBC's management structure will be retained - with one key exception. Out goes the government-appointed board of governors; in comes a government-appointed board of trustees.

The difference between the two lies not in the nomenclature or the manner of their appointment but in their remit. The present board of governors acts both as "cheerleaders" and "regulators" (to quote the terms used by Jowell).

The incoming appointees will act solely as "custodians", she explained, with a brief to ensure the BBC observes its public service responsibilities and manages its finances effectively. They will have oversight of the BBC management but not executive power.

The latter will be delegated to a new board, chaired by the BBC director general, present incumbent Mark Thompson. No mention was made of a future role for BBC chairman Michael Grade, although he (and most BBC staff) is said to be relieved and happy with the proposals.

Indeed some observers believe that Grade, by nature a highly uninstitutional figure and appointed only eleven months ago, was an interim appointment pending the outcome of the BBC review.

Less euphoric at the outcome is the government's media and telecoms supra-regulator Ofcom, thought by many to have harboured ambitions to add oversight of the BBC to its already extensive responsibilities [WAMN: 09-Feb-05].

The proposals must now be ratified by parliament.

Meantime, secretary Jowell told the BBC it must place greater emphasis on public service programming . It should not "chase ratings" or "play copycat" - a reference to the broadcaster's current obsession with reincarnating its own and rivals' hit formats.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff