The cross-party House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee, chaired by veteran MP Gerald Kaufman (Labour, Manchester Gorton), is to probe and report on the role of the BBC.
Kaufman, a caustic party apparatchik, will focus the committee's attention on four specific areas …
• The BBC's scope and remit in the era of digital TV and the internet.
• Funding methods
• Whether the current ten-year charter is a framework best suited to the BBC and its responsibilities
The Kaufman committee will also scrutinize the public service obligations of other broadcasters (including ITV), the expansion of broadband networks, and the planned switch-off of the analogue TV signal between 2006 and 2010.
The inquiry did not get off to a good start for the BBC, which scored a spectacular own goal with a heavyhanded ad threatening legal action against viewers who evade the mandatory licence fee (payable whether or not they watch BBC programmes).
This, fulminated Kaufman, is "an odious licensing campaign [implying the BBC can] snoop on every household in the country". He demanded that culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell "make it clear to the BBC that if it conducts a campaign with menaces and threats of that kind, using licence payers' money to do so, more and more people will believe that there ought not to be a licence at all".
"TV licence evasion is against the law," a BBC spokeswoman responded mildly, "and it is our duty to pursue wilful evaders on behalf of the honest majority of TV viewers who are properly licensed."
Believed by many to be the globe's best public service broadcasting organization, the BBC is treading on eggshells in the post-Iraq political climate.
The miasma of settling old scores with the inconveniently independent broadcaster hangs over certain members of the Blair administration. Kaufman's outburst may portend a sustained campaign of denigration.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff