BPG report recommendations shot down by Jowell

MUMBAI: BBC has received a shot in the arm regarding its uncertainty concerning yesterday's Broadcasting Policy Group (BPG) report. There were fears that the government might use the report's charter recommendations to punish the organisation over the recent Iraq dossier, which saw several heads roll last month. The group was asked by the Conservative Party to recommend what should happen when the BBC's current Royal Charter expires in 2006.

However UK's secretary of state for culture, media and sport Tessa Jowell gave the thumbs down to suggestions in the report regarding removing the license fee and getting rid of the Beebs governing board.

The report had also recommended splitting the BBC into separate units and also introducing subscription charges for BBC television services. Instead of renewing the Royal Charter, the group had suggested that the BBC's assets be transferred from 2007 to a new public corporation also called the BBC. However it would be modelled on Channel 4. Ownership would be vested in the communications regulator Ofcom. There would be a mixed board of executive and non-executive directors. The BPG is chaired by former television executive David Elstein.

However a Media Guardian report stated that Jowell felt that the implementation of the Group's main suggestions were contrary to the vision of a strong and independent BBC. She went on to note that the report was one sided in that it ignored the BBC's role as a news organisation that constantly strives to maintain accuracy, balance and fairness.

In the report Eistein had said, "We came to the conclusion that this objective could be achieved only through radical change." The report of the group had been made against the background of Lord Hutton's observations on supposed weaknesses in BBC journalism, management and governance. Of course Lord Hutton's report was seen by many as a white wash that sought to completely exonerate the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The group also stated that it took into account claims that the broadcaster had diluted its role as a public service provider in the rush for higher ratings. It also looked into criticism that the Beeb was abusing its privileged status to compete unfairly with commercial rivals. The group stated that dependence on the licence fee left the BBC at the mercy of the government, which sets the level.

The Group had further noted that the licence fee would in any case become a less reliable source of funding in future because the proliferation of television channels will inevitably reduce the BBC's audience share. At the same time rapid technological changes would challenge our idea of what constitutes a television set.

From 2007, the Group recommended that some digitally transmitted BBC television services be gradually funded from subscription. It recommended that the licence fee be correspondingly reduced, perhaps from around 130 to 100 in 2007, and eventually down to perhaps 50. This process would encourage, and help fund, the take-up of digital receiving equipment.

It also suggested that from 2007 distribution and television programme production be hived off. Once analogue transmissions cease, television broadcasting should also be separated from the rest of the BBC and freed to operate primarily as a pay-TV business.

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