BBC Charter Review white paper: what you need to know

The sensitive political process of renewing the BBC's Royal Charter is entering its closing stages with the publication yesterday of the Government's white paper, which will be debated by Parliament in the autumn.

Here are the key points for PRs to keep tabs on in the Government’s document setting out the BBC's future from 1 January 2017, when the new charter is set to start.

Want to complain about BBC content? The process will be simpler

Under the current system, complaints can go to both the BBC Trust and Ofcom. But with only the former able to rule on accuracy and impartiality, the Government says it had no external oversight. It wants a system where all complaints about editorial content go to the BBC but a complainant may appeal to Ofcom if unsatisfied with the BBC’s response, and Ofcom will be able to consider accuracy and impartiality complaints.

Want to pitch magazine-style stories to the BBC website? It could become harder

After the BBC’s commercial rivals expressed concern about BBC Online’s increasing focus on ‘soft news’ and ‘magazine’-style content, the BBC said it would rein this back and focus on rigorous, impartial analysis of important news events and current affairs. The Government welcomes this in the white paper.

Hope to partner with the BBC? The corporation could be more receptive

The Government outlines its ambition to make the BBC a better partner in helping other organisations connect with audiences, citing successful projects with the Imperial War Museum on the First World War Centenary and the British Museum on ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’. It sounds particularly keen to have more help from the broadcaster to encourage sports participation.

Expect the BBC to lead the way on diversity in the media

Minorities aren’t getting enough out of the BBC, according to both the broadcaster and the Government. The BBC has come up with new on-screen and off-screen targets – for example that by 2020 15 per cent of lead acting roles must go to BAME actors and 10 per cent of senior management roles must go to LGBT people – but the Government says "more still needs to be done" and it will "enshrine diversity in the new charter’s public purposes". A former BBC producer yesterday told PRWeek this measure would be welcomed within the corporation.

The march of transparency in public life accelerates

The BBC has bowed to pressure to reveal how much it pays its stars and will disclose the pay band of anyone on more than £450,000 a year (the current director-general’s salary). But the Government also wants it to disclose its spending by genre of programming. And it will enshrine greater scrutiny of BBC spending by the National Audit Office in the new charter.

Engagement, engagement, engagement

Another trend the Government is keen on is for the BBC to engage with all parts of the UK. It wants the broadcaster to spend a considerable amount of time and effort understanding and reaching out to people in all parts of Britain so that it can shape its services to create the greatest public value, focusing on engagement with the public as citizens as well as consumers.

The licence fee will require a new comms drive

Until now people did not need a TV licence to watch catch-up content on the iPlayer, but the Government says it will close this loophole. It stands behind the idea of the licence fee and is allowing it to again increase in line with inflation after a multi-year freeze. But it says the long-term funding picture and media landscape is uncertain, and it will allow the BBC to experiment with subscription fees for some of its content in this charter (though it sounds more likely that this would apply to overseas viewers rather than domestic viewers). All this will require careful explanation by the BBC and TV Licensing.  

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have a greater say

People outside England need more from the BBC, says the Government. So Ofcom, which will be the BBC’s new regulator, will be tasked with ensuring it makes specific provision for the Nations. The BBC will be required to submit reports to, and appear before, committees in the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the same basis as the UK Parliament. In addition, the Government will appoint a non-executive member for each nation to the BBC board who will be obliged to engage with their nation’s public. However, this proposal has already proved controversial as it would mean the state would have power over the appointment of six members of the board, including the chairman and deputy chairman.

Government sees the BBC as a key part of the UK’s ‘soft power’

The white paper is effusive in its praise of the BBC World Service, which brings international news to 348 million people around the world each week. It says this helps ensure, along with other internationally respected global UK media brands, that the UK continues to lead the world in terms of soft power, measured for its global influence through its culture, media and education. It proposes to ensure the BBC protects licence fee funding for the service at £254m per year and to give it additional funding of £34m in 2016/17 and £85m in the three subsequent years.

This last point was among those addressed by the broadcaster's comms chief at PR360 last month.

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