The UK government today (Friday) launches what it claims is its largest public consultation exercise. Its subject: the future of the BBC, the state-controlled radio, television and online media giant.
Funded by a licence fee -- currently an annual £116 ($202.89; €165.67) levied on all UK households with a colour TV set, whether or not they view BBC programmes -- the broadcaster is nominally independent of the government of the day, albeit responsible to a board of politically appointed governors.
Nonetheless, there has been growing tension between the BBC and the Blair administration, fuelled by the broadcaster's alleged anti-war stance over the invasion of Iraq. Some observers believe the government may seek to punish the BBC for its failure to toe the Anglo-US party line.
The BBC operates under a ten-year renewable Royal Charter which expires at the end of 2006. As part of the charter review, culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell today launches the public consultation.
According to Jowell, the future of the BBC will for the first time be determined by the "British people", rather than the "great and the good".
A snappily-headlined consultation leaflet, Your BBC, Your Say, asks the public whether it believes the licence fee is the best way of paying for the BBC and, if not, for alternative funding suggestions -- the latter request begging an explosively politicized issue.
The leaflet, available in public libraries and online, poses eight questions to help people formulate their responses …
• What do you value most about the BBC?
• How should the BBC adapt to cope with changes in technology and culture?
• What do you think of the television, radio and online services the BBC provides?
• Should the BBC run commercial services?
• How should we pay for the BBC?
• Is the BBC organised in the most effective and efficient way?
• How should the BBC be governed and regulated?
• How do we ensure that the BBC is properly accountable to the public and parliament?
The consultation process will also include market research and public meetings.
The BBC's commercial rivals -- and certainly its arch-enemy News Corporation, which controls Britain's largest pay-TV operator BSkyB plus newspapers commanding over 35% of the nation's readership -- are likely to use the consultation to voice their opinions. Their loudest cry is likely to be a call for the curtailment of the BBC's commercial activities.
BBC director general Greg Dyke steeled himself to welcome the government's public consultation and said the corporation would play a full part in the charter review debate.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff