September 20, 2003

BBC 'in deep trouble' over licence renewal

The BBC is in "deep trouble" and faces a tough battle to get its licence fee renewed in the wake of the Hutton inquiry, the head of the independent television commission warned today.

http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,7493,1045723,00.html

BBC 'in deep trouble' over licence renewal

Lisa O'Carroll
Friday September 19, 2003


Hodgson: BBC's case 'substantially worse' than last
time round

The BBC is in "deep trouble" and faces a tough battle
to get its licence fee renewed in the wake of the
Hutton inquiry, the head of the independent television
commission warned today.
And the head of one of Britain's biggest independent
TV companies declared that the "game is up" for the
board of governors because of the hasty way they
handled the row over Andrew Gilligan's controversial
Today programme report.

Patricia Hodgson, who was one of former BBC director
general Lord Birt's closest aides and was instrumental
in winning the last licence fee settlement from the
government, said she feared the corporation's case was
"substantially worse" than last time round.

She is a staunch supporter of the BBC but warned that
neither management nor the governors can be complacent
in their battle to have licence fee funding renewed
when the current royal charter expires in 2006.

"The BBC position is very substantially worse this
time round. We have had seven years of a united and
competitive attack on the last settlement [licence
fee[.

"That's combined with the fact the two major parties
are probably feeling pretty sore - the BBC is in deep
trouble when it comes to the next charter."

The BBC has this week been left increasingly
vulnerable to attack after two of its most senior
managers - the director general, Greg Dyke, and head
of news Richard Sambrook - both admitted to a series
of mistakes in the wake of Gilligan's report.

Mr Dyke promised a review of BBC journalistic
practices while Mr Sambrook admitted further checks
should have been carried out on Gilligan's story
before it went out.

Gilligan, who reported that the government had "sexed
up" the Iraq intelligence dossier, also admitted to a
catalogue of mistakes, confessing to the Hutton
inquiry this week that he had not "carefully and
accurately" reported what the dead weapons inspector
David Kelly told him.

Today, in a heated debate at the Royal Television
Society conference in Cambridge, Ms Hodgson warned the
BBC could no longer "assume" that Labour would just go
along and "tick the box" for licence fee renewal.

"I think it has got to look very closely at every
single element of the licence fee contract. It has to
look at the balance of programmes; the standard of
journalism and its commercial activities," she warned.


Ms Hodgson's remarks come less than 24 hours after the
culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, announced a "root and
branch" review of the corporation.

The BBC fears at worst that there the licence fee will
either not be renewed or will be renewed at a level
below inflation - causing an effective drop in income.


Others believe it will get its licence fee renewed but
it will emerge far from unscathed from the review
process, with the board of governors losing some
regulatory powers to Ofcom or abolished altogether.

Peter Bazalgette, the head of Endemol Television,
called for the current system of regulation to be
scrapped.

He said the Hutton inquiry had shown the governors
were management poodles, echoing one governor who in
private correspondence during the Gilligan row warned
that the board should not be seen to be a management
"patsy".

Mr Bazalgette said: "This is all about the Hutton
inquiry. 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 the issue.

"Everyone understands that the BBC [board] has long
been captured by the people they are supposed to
regulate."

In reference to a psychological syndrome whereby a
kidnap victim becomes sympathetic with their captor,
he added: "In fact, they've not been so much captured,
they've gone for the full Stockholm Syndrome."

Mr Bazalgette defended the BBC's right to do the
Gilligan story and said management were right to back
the report, but added that the governors were wrong to
rush into judgment.

"Post Hutton, for the governors the game is up - the
system has been exposed as a sham. This has not just
been an isolated mistake, it was an accident waiting
to happen.

"The governors are delivering the BBC into government
control."

The BBC also came under fire from the former head of
ITV, David Liddiment.

He described the system of BBC regulation as
"dysfunctional", pointing to occasions when the board
of governors ordered one thing - such as improved arts
coverage on BBC1 - and management did another, in this
case scrap Omnibus.

The corporation was defended by Professor Stephen
Barnet from the University of Westminster, who said
the governors couldn't be crucified for doing
something they knew instinctively to be right.

He said that a time when the corporation was coming
under relentless attack by Alastair Campbell and Tony
Blair over its war coverage the BBC governors were
"merely protecting the institution from an
intimidating and bullying government".

To contact the MediaGuardian newsdesk email
editor@mediaguardian.co.uk or phone 020 7239 9857



Posted by richard at September 20, 2003 03:17 PM