Unveiling an overhaul of the BBC in a white paper, John Whittingdale, Britain’s secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said communications regulator Ofcom will oversee the BBC in future, while the National Audit Office will have responsibility for carrying out financial audits of the broadcaster. The move means Ofcom, rather than the BBC Trust, will have responsibility for adjudicating on serious complaints and imposing sanctions where necessary. This will remove the charge that the BBC is regulating and investigating itself, especially on major issues. Ofcom currently regulates commercial broadcasters (like the Australian Communications and Media Authority does in Australia) and has the power to fine and publish critical adjudications.

The BBC’s charter will now be renewed every 11 years, rather than 10 years at present, and the BBC’s current chair, Rona Fairhead, will remain in her post until the end of her term in 2018. The BBC will in future have to publish names of journalists and freelancers paid 450,000 pounds a year (A$890,000) or more (said to be as few as a dozen). The BBC will be responsible for appointing at least “half of the board members”, but as to who names the remainder has not been outlined (and will be a key power for whoever does it — this has emerged as a key worry for critics of the proposal). The white paper proposes that the new charter will also strengthen the independence of the BBC, with special (unnamed as yet) “protections” for the BBC’s editor-in-chief, the director-general.

Interestingly, as part of the new deal, the BBC will allow independent producers to bid to make 100% of its output outside of its news programs (currently they are limited to 50%), including returnable series such as EastEnders. It also gives approval to the BBC desire to turn its in-house production department into newly commercial BBC Studios (and compete with the likes of ITV Studios, the commercial production arm of ITV). Rival broadcasters will be able to bid for a 20 million pound pot to make public service programs such as children’s TV, on a trial basis. Plans for much of this deal were already set in motion in July 2015 when the corporation reached an agreement with the government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey