BBC welcomes House of Lords call to de-politicise charter debate

The BBC has welcomed what it calls a "growing political consensus" to de-politicise debates about the broadcaster's future, in response to a report by peers on its future and its Royal Charter.

A BBC building in Salford Quays (credit: Mikey on flickr)
A BBC building in Salford Quays (credit: Mikey on flickr)

In Reith not Revolution, the House of Lords Communications Committee today says that the scale and scope of the BBC should not be cut back, but calls for a more transparent process around the licence fee settlement.

The report – whose title is a reference to Lord Reith, whose principles for broadcasting are at the corporation's heart – follows an eight-month inquiry.

Lord Best, chairman of the committee, said: "We received no compelling evidence for a reduction in the BBC’s scale and scope. Rather, the committee sees merit in the universality of the BBC, underlining its special role of reflecting and bringing together the nations, regions and diverse communities of the UK."

However, Best did propose that an independent regulator of the broadcaster take the lead in recommending the level of the licence fee to the Culture Secretary. That regulator is currently the BBC Trust, but this may change following the Charter review. He also called for a new, more transparent process to replace the "behind closed doors" practice that has previously surrounded the licence fee.

The committee also advised that the BBC’s next Charter - the current Charter expires this year - be for a longer term, to decouple it from the general election cycle and protect the BBC's impartiality and independence. Further recommendations made by the committee include a review of the BBC's accountability framework, to simplify and clarify it, and a set of values to sit alongside the framework.

The Government has two months to respond to the report, after which there will be a debate in the House of Lords.

A spokesman for the BBC said: "The Lords report is an important, thorough and considered contribution to the debate about the future of the BBC.

"We welcome the growing political consensus on the need for a longer charter to take debates about the BBC out of the election cycle. The report also makes clear that there is no need for contestable funding or further top-slicing of the BBC’s funding for other purposes.

"We also note that the committee believes that the BBC should be deregulated – we endorse this, as it will put creativity first and will always enable the BBC to make its own decisions about programming, rather than those decisions potentially being prescribed from Whitehall.

"In particular, we welcome the recognition that the BBC is a small player globally and its backing for the broad remit of the BBC with no need for reductions in the BBC’s scale or scope."

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