September 20, 2003

Jowell stands up for BBC's independence

"The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, has delivered a strong defence of the BBC's right to report anti-government views during times of war, as pressure grows on the corporation's governors over the David Kelly affair. "

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1045894,00.html

Jowell stands up for BBC's independence

Minister's defence comes as high-profile television
executive labels corporation's governance a 'sham'

Matt Wells, media correspondent
Saturday September 20, 2003
The Guardian

The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, has delivered a
strong defence of the BBC's right to report
anti-government views during times of war, as pressure
grows on the corporation's governors over the David
Kelly affair.
Ms Jowell said the BBC should be firmly independent of
government, amid calls from elsewhere in government -
particularly from within No 10 and from other media -
for the corporation to be reined in. Peter Bazalgette,
a prominent independent programme-maker, said the
Hutton inquiry had exposed the system of BBC
governance as a "sham".

In the face of this pressure, Ms Jowell made a strong
case for the BBC's continued independence. "Clem
Attlee wanted greater freedom for the BBC, arguing
that even in wartime the BBC must be allowed to
broadcast opinions other than those of government.
That was right then, and it is now," Ms Jowell said in
a speech to senior broadcasting figures. Her remarks
come against the backdrop of one of the most serious
rifts in relations between the BBC and the government
in the corporation's history, and could be interpreted
as a shot across the bows of Downing Street.

The BBC believes No 10's explosive reaction to Andrew
Gilligan's story about the "sexed up" Iraq dossier was
motivated by frustration over its war coverage. Even
before Gilligan reported the concerns of the weapons
expert, BBC executives were being bombarded by
complaints from Alastair Campbell at No 10 about the
many aspects of the corporation's war coverage.

Ms Jowell made her comments at the Royal Television
Society's biennial Cambridge convention in a speech
late on Thursday night - delivered by her broadcasting
minister Lord McIntosh, because she was stuck in
traffic. She announced a review of the BBC's role and
purpose in the run-up to the expiry of its current
royal charter in 2006, but said: "One certain outcome
will be a strong BBC, independent of government."

One official in the Depart ment for Culture said Ms
Jowell saw the review as a means by which to take the
heat out of the row between No 10 and the BBC. Ms
Jowell has appointed an independent adviser to inform
the process, the Abbey National chairman, Lord Burns.
He is a close friend of the former BBC director
general Lord Birt, now a Downing Street adviser.

At the convention yesterday, the governors were
attacked for supporting the BBC management over the
Gilligan story. Mr Bazalgette, chairman of Endemol UK,
which pro duces Big Brother, Fame Academy and
Restoration, said: "This is all about Hutton. Can the
BBC governors be both cheerleaders and regulators?

"That, up to now, has been an esoteric argument that
most people didn't understand. After Hutton, everyone
understands this issue. Everyone understands that the
BBC governors have long been captured by the people
they are supposed to regulate. In fact, they have not
so much been captured, they have gone for the full
Stockholm syndrome.

"Post-Hutton, for the gover nors, the game is up. The
system has been exposed as a sham. They haven't made
an isolated mistake, it was an accident waiting to
happen."

Mr Bazalgette said that, as confidence in the
governors diminished, ministers would step into the
breach. "The governors are delivering the BBC into
government control."

Patricia Hodgson, chief executive of the independent
television commission and a former director of policy
and strategy at the BBC, said: "The BBC is in deep
trouble when it comes to the next charter review. It
has got its work cut out."

Greg Dyke, director general of the BBC, would only
say: "She's entitled to her view. I don't share it."

BSkyB said yesterday it might turn its Sky Travel
channel into a general entertainment network - dubbed
Channel 6 - to rival ITV, Channel 4 and Five if the
Freeview digital terrestrial service, on which it is
currently shown, became widespread.


Posted by richard at September 20, 2003 03:16 PM