BBC Drops Opposition to External Regulation

02 May 2003

The BBC, arguably the globe’s most respected publicly-owned broadcaster, has long and fiercely fought the concept of regulation of its activities by any source other than its government-appointed Board of Governors.

The body’s twelve members are appointed by the Queen in Council [a euphemism for the ruling political party of the day]. They monitor the BBC's performance and standards against objectives set, and appoint its Director-General and senior management.

However, although no specific change to the status quo is included in the upcoming Communications Bill, the present cosy arrangement has been called into question and political pressure for reform is increasingly directed at the BBC’s head honchos.

Many onlookers consider the reform proposals both reasonable and moderate – namely that the BBC’s finances, like those of all government-funded departments and agencies, are open to examination by the National Audit Office.

Despite this, the BBC’s top brass remained obdurate. Chairman Gavyn Davies as recently as last month told the House of Lords that NAO involvement would risk “duplicating and undermining” the work done by the governing board’s own audit committee. Furthermore it could lead to a “risk averse” culture and suspicions of “political or government control”.

But presto! On Wednesday, the BBC’s chief adviser on public policy, David Fawcett, told the Westminster Media Forum that the corporation is not “in principle” opposed to external scrutiny. Observers believe the BBC’s collective mind has been ‘concentrated wonderfully’ in the light of the June deadline by which it must justify the £112 million ($176m; €163m) of public money it spends annually on web and interactive services.

It will also be increasingly sensitive to the fact that its government-granted charter, on which its £2.5 billion ($3.93bn; €3.64bn) annual licence income is dependent, comes up for review in 2006 – and that commercial broadcasters with a public service remit are already starting to lobby for a share of the loot [WAMN: 16-Jan-03].

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff