Television

Licence fee payers to help set the BBC's agenda

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MUMBAI: For the first time, licence fee payers will have a say in how UK pubcaster the BBC delivers its mission to inform, educate and entertain.

The new Charter and Agreement outline six 'Public Purposes' for the BBC and task the new BBC Trust with ensuring the BBC delivers the best possible programming to promote them.

The Trust has taken its first step to fulfilling this responsibility, publishing for public consultation six draft Purpose Remits which spell out proposed priorities and how the BBCs delivery of each purpose will be judged. The consultation and the first of the Trusts major audience research surveys will seek to find out what priorities are most important to licence fee payers and how the BBC is currently performing in those areas.

BBC Trust acting chairman Chitra Bharucha said, "The new Charter makes clear that the BBC exists only to serve the public interest and the BBC's main object is the promotion of its six Public Purposes. For each of these Public Purposes we are today publishing draft remits and asking licence fee payers whether they agree with the priorities proposed for the BBC. We also want to know how well licence fee payers think the BBC is currently performing in these priority areas."

The public consultation has begun formally and any individual or organisation can respond via the BBC Trust's website. The Audience Councils - the Trust's advisers in the UK's four nations will provide responses from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and around England; and the Trust will seek to raise awareness amongst interest groups and the public directly.

Bharucha said however that the Trust needed to do more in order to ensure the evidence on which the Trust based its judgements was properly representative of licence fee payers:

"The Trust hopes as many people as possible will respond to the consultation. We owe it to all licence fee payers to ensure that the evidence we collect is truly representative. We are therefore also commissioning our first major survey of 4,500 adults to help identify the publics priorities for the BBC and where they think the BBC could do better. The Trust will take account of all views expressed before finalising the Purpose Remits. We will then request BBC management to respond with their plans for delivery."

The consultation will close on 10 April 2007. The Trust will publish responses to the consultation and the results of the survey alongside the final Purpose Remits later this year. This follows on media reports last month which had stated that UK's culture secretary Tessa Jowell and chancellor Gordon Brown had agreed to a below-inflation rise for the TV licence fee. The agreement has not yet been approved by British PM Tony Blair.

Under the plan, the fee would rise by three per cent next year and the year after, and two per cent for the following three years. The Retail Price Index is currently 3.9 per cent. The decision would mean the licence fee rising to £135.45 next year from its current level of £131.50. By 2012, the cost of a TV licence is set to be between £148.05 and £151. BBC DG Mark Thompson had told staff it would be a real disappointment if this move goes ahead. The BBC wanted an annual rise of 1.8 per cent above inflation.

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