UK Government Says BBC Must Address Regulation Issues

04 November 2004

The UK's publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC, faces major changes in the way it is regulated.

Under the present regime its board of governors acts both as watchdog and champion, a situation Tony Blair's administration is determined to change with the 2007 renewal of the BBC's charter, the structure under which it operates.

Heeding her master's voice, culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell has thrown down the gauntlet to the broadcaster's policy makers saying the "status quo is not an option".

She told the culture, media and sport select committee the overhaul of governance would "strengthen the relationship between the public, who pay for it, and the BBC as an institution".

The issue has been at the forefront of dealings between the administration and the broadcaster following the suicide of Dr David Kelly, a government scientist who was the source of an allegedly false BBC radio report that the government had 'sexed-up' (permissible in this context) the intelligence findings on the now-discredited Iraqi threat.

The Hutton inquiry into Dr Kelly's death damned the governors' support of BBC executives and strengthened calls for reform. As a result of the bitter row that ensued, both the chairman of the BBC's governors and its director general resigned.

In a bid to head off the government at the pass, new chairman Michael Grade has imposed changes to the way the governors work by appointing more broadcasting specialists and announcing his intention to make them more independent of BBC management.

The UK broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, which oversees commercial companies, has said it does not want to become responsible for regulation of the BBC.

The committee also heard from broadcasting minister Lord Andrew McIntosh who promised details early next year of the government's plans for a complete switchover to digital signal broadcasting by 2012.

Said Lord McIntosh: "We will cover all the issues, including timing region by region, the total timing and the question of targeted assistance."

Ministers have been looking at helping low income families and elderly people with the cost of digital receivers.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff