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The UK’s culture, media, and sport secretary announced a sweep of changes to the BBC on Thursday – most notably, completely changing the way it is governed.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday, John Whittingdale announced the BBC Trust is not “fit for purpose” and will be abolished.
Instead, there will be a new “unitary” board of governors responsible for making sure the public service broadcaster’s output meets its obligations, including a requirement for “distinctive” content, independent of political bias.
BBC director general Tony Hall will still be responsible for editorial decisions, but the new board will consider complaints.
For the first time, the BBC will have the ability to appoint the majority of this 12-to-14-member board. In the past, the government selected the majority of the BBC Trust and BBC Governors board.
In another big change, UK communications regulator Ofcom will now be given the power to assess whether the BBC’s output is negatively affecting its commercial rivals in the UK. Whittingdale said the BBC has a 33% share of TV, a 53% share in radio, and the third most-popular website in the UK.
The National Audit Office will now be responsible for regulating the BBC’s commercial arm.
Here’s an outline of the biggest changes to the BBC announced by Whittingdale on Thursday:
- The BBC can now appoint the majority of its board members for the first time (not government.)Current BBC Trust Chair Rona Fairhead will remain in post until the end of her term in 2018.Ofcom will become the external regulator for the publicly-funded BBC. The National Audit Office will be the BBC’s financial auditor.Whittingdale wants the BBC to be the “leading broadcaster in addressing diversity.”The BBC has a duty to produce “distinct” content. Indeed, the whitepaper announcing the changes is titled: “A BBC for the future: a broadcaster of distinction.”BBC talent onannual compensation of more than £450,000 will have their salaries published. Managers earning more than £150,000 per year will also have their salaries published.The £145.50 annual Licence Fee freeze will increase in line with inflation from 2017 until 2022.Those watching catch-up content on the BBC iPlayer will also be required to paythe Licence Fee.Additional government funding will be provided to the BBC’s commercial World Service arm.
The changes are detailed in a whitepaper on the future of the BBC, published on Thursday. It was necessary because the BBC is governed by a Royal Charter and the current Charter will expire at the end of 2016.
The whitepaper represents the culmination of 10 months of work looking into how the BBC should be run.
The government will now listen to feedback from “key groups,” including parliament. It expects the new 11-year Charter to be effective from January 1, 2017.
BBC director general Tony Hall issued this statement in response to the proposals:
This White Paper delivers a mandate for the strong, creative BBC the public believe in. A BBC that will be good for the creative industries – and most importantly of all, for Britain.
There has been a big debate about the future of the BBC. Searching questions have been asked about its role and its place in the UK. That’s right and healthy, and I welcome that debate.
At the end, we have an 11-year Charter, a licence fee guaranteed for 11 years, and an endorsement of the scale and scope of what the BBC does today. The White Paper reaffirms our mission to inform, educate and entertain all audiences on television, on radio and online.
However, Hall added, in a statement on the BBC website, that the corporation did not agree the appointment proposals for the new unitary board “are yet right” and that it will continue to disucss with the government how to arrange the board in order to preserve the BBC’s independence.