British MPs Call for Independent BBC Governors

20 December 2004

A possible answer to the controversial question of how best to regulate the UK's state funded broadcaster, the BBC, has been proposed by a parliamentary cross-party media committee.

The committee recommends that the Blair administration set up an independent board of governors to be the BBC's watchdog, while director general Mark Thompson and the executive board assume corporate responsibility.

The board of governors is presently both the BBC's champion and its regulator, a position heavily criticised last year by the Hutton inquiry into the alleged 'sexing up' of the government's now discredited Iraq war dossier.

Hutton's report, widely viewed with cynicism as a goverment 'whitewash', was heavily critical of the BBC's role in the affair. It led to the resignations both of Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke, respectively the corporation's chairman and director general.

Current BBC chairman Michael Grade, who took over after the inquiry, has already put in place changes to the appointment of governors and is relocating the board's offices to underline its independence from BBC operational management.

Meantime, the House of Commons media select committee has reviewed the governance and funding of the BBC in anticipation of the corporation's Charter Renewal (the structure through which it operates) in 2007.

In its report it recommends: "Governors should be appointed on the basis of relevant experience - particularly in the media - and charged with the specific role of regulating the BBC and maintaining its independence."

Says committee chairman Sir Gerald Kaufman MP: "The governors should be appointed in a professional manner rather than the tokenistic way they are currently ... the BBC should be accountable to one body and run by another which is its champion."

The committee also recommends the charter should eventually be scrapped and replaced by an Act of Parliament.

It does, however, uphold the principle of the licence fee, which every British TV-owning household must pay, whether or not it views BBC channels.

The committee says: "The licence fee remains ... the least worst way of funding the BBC. While it is regressive and unfair on the disadvantaged in society, the evidence we received clearly indicates that there is no other viable and credible alternative which would ensure the current universality of access."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff