A Survey of Selected Responses to the BBC Charter Review Process

Simon Blanchard

September 2004.

1. Introduction

1.1. In December 2003 the DCMS formally launched their Review of the BBC's Royal Charter. The accompanying consultation framework document stressed that the Review is intended to be open and wide-ranging, and has only one fixed point, namely "..that the outcome of Charter review will be a strong BBC, independent of Government." (DCMS, 2003, p.5.).

1.2. The framework document goes on to sketch out the range of issues that are likely to feature in public debates, and some of the issues that might be reviewed - such as the BBC's finances, the scale and scope of its services, and its relationships with relevant stakeholders.

1.3. This short survey is exclusively concerned with just one of these agendas, namely the complex of issues that can be grouped together under the heading of 'governance'. This term is understood as covering an interwoven mix of issues which focus on 'high level' BBC strategy, structure and oversight.

1.4. As with its use elsewhere in policy debates,  'governance' as a term speaks to the ways in which these matters of 'high level' direction of the BBC are not in practice the exclusive prerogative of its senior managers, or even of the Corporation's Board of Governors.

1.5.  The BBC's unique place in both broadcasting and public life means that a wider range of voices and actors have a legitimate concern with its operations, and - to very varying degrees - can be seen as genuine 'stakeholders',  ones who both can and will play a part in shaping its current and future direction.

1.6.  This sense of a wider and more vocal constituency of 'stakeholders'  acquired additional resonance in light of the upheavals surrounding the Hutton inquiry, which put these matters under considerable pressure.

1.7.  Nonetheless, there are good grounds for seeing this agenda as more long-standing, and not just the product of relatively short-term factors.  Indeed, they were the subject of detailed analysis and reflection during the last Charter Review of the early 1990s (see Shaw, 1993). 

1.8.  If we recognise that these matters have been looming up for some time, it comes as no surprise to find that a significant part of the body of submissions to the current Charter Review addressed themselves to the 'governance' agenda, and that the BBC has come forward with its own proposals on this front. (BBC, 2004).

2. The scope of this survey

2.1. This survey is therefore intended to provide a very brief roadmap of the main lines of debate and proposal on the BBC governance issue to date, taking account of the range of voices and perspectives at issue, and recognising this as terrain on which there is a sharp divergence of underlying philosophy and mindset - not all of it by any means falling along a conventional partisan spectrum.

2.2.  To keep matters manageable, the result is inevitably highly compressed, and I have kept direct quotations to a minimum. Key points are sourced to the relevant document (s), which are listed in Appendix One.

2.3.  The survey is in 2 parts. The first resumes the main lines of debate on the key issues. In a second concluding section I offer some brief contextual comments, and suggest some of the key unresolved questions still 'in play'.


3.1.  In reviewing the debates to date we can identify 5 relatively distinct governance topics. These are:

Topic One:  The Royal Charter & Agreement - are they an adequate legal basis for the BBC ?

Topic Two:  The BBC Governors - are the procedures for choosing them adequate ?

Topic Three:  The BBC Governors - how they relate to the BBC's senior managers.

Topic Four:  The BBC and Ofcom - should Ofcom have a larger role in the regulation of the BBC ?

Topic Five:  The BBC Governors  - how they relate to the public

3.2. We examine these now in turn.

4. The BBC's Legal Standing

4.1.  The BBC has operated under the terms of a Royal Charter and accompanying Agreement since 1927. These define the BBC's powers and duties, and frame its place in the broad constitutional landscape. The current Charter ends on 31 December 2006.

4.2. The Royal Charter has proved a resilient framework over many decades, and there are those who see no reason to move away from it at the present time: "..A Royal Charter continues to be the most appropriate basis for establishing the BBC. It situates the Corporation outside the commercial sector and the party political system. It also has the potential to reinforce the link between the Crown and the people.." (VLV, 2004, pg 4).

4.3. Conversely, a number of commentators have been suggesting for some time now that the Charter is not an adequate legal instrument for a pivotal public body like the BBC. On this view, the Charter is - to use Bagehot's distinction - most certainly 'dignified', but no longer 'efficient'. (see:Barendt, 1993; Curran, 1998).

4.4.  As Tongue and Ward put it, the Charter " ill-suited to set out the duties and responsibilities of the contemporary BBC.." (Tongue and Ward, 2004,  pg 11). Like a number of other respondents they suggest that it should not be renewed, but "..replaced with a more suitable instrument.." (ibid).

4.5.  At this point, respondents diverge somewhat on the shape and purpose of any replacement for a Royal Charter. For Tongue and Ward, the replacement should provide 'something far more permanent both in terms of reviews of the BBC's services and its legal standing and obligations.." (ibid), but they do not indicate any more specific legal structure.

4.6. In contrast, the Broadcasting Policy Group also support non-renewal of the Charter, and propose "an entirely new Corporation structured along conventional corporate lines.." (BPG, 2004, pg 59), "..with shares to be owned by government..". (ibid). The BPG point to the existing corporate structure of Channel 4 as a relevant precedent in this regard. 

4.7. As the BPG note, a BBC with a permanent legal personality rather than a time limited Royal Charter could enjoy significant advantages. "..The whole process of Charter review at 10 -yearly intervals, and the uncertainty it brings with it, would disappear. The political threat to the Corporation's independence implicit in the prospect of Charter review would also go.." (BPG, 2004, pg 60.).

4.8.  The concluding passages of the BBC's own statement of case on Charter Review addresses the issue, and notes that "..we recognise that the concept of a Royal Charter can seem old-fashioned for a modern media organisation. The BBC would welcome a broad public debate on whether other models might be better. For example, further consideration could be given to models such as mutualisation, trust status or establishing the BBC as a public interest company..". (BBC, 2004, pg 134).

4.9.  The submission also points out that any alternative would need to be " least as effective as the current Charter model in underpinning the BBC's independence and public role.." (ibid). In this respect, the Royal Charter is seen as a bulwark against more extreme or preremptory reconstructions of the BBC such as wholesale privatisation or effective abolition.

4.10. Given the political and constitutional sensitivities of this issue from a range of standpoints, it seems likely that any alternative to current arrangements will require a broad basis of support and acceptance, both amongst the political class and the public at large.

4.11. If that is so, it is worth noting the findings on this topic from the DCMS report on the public consultation process. This notes that, on the question of whether the Royal Charter remains the best legal basis, "..we received few responses on this point. Among those who expressed an opinion, there was little support for alternatives, including constitution by Act of Parliament.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 42).

5. BBC Governors - Recruitment and Selection

5.1. The DCMS consultation also noted that the public at large demonstrated a marked lack of knowledge about the role of the BBC's Governors. As one respondent to the DCMS put it, "...We plough our licence fee into the vehicle called the BBC and we don't really know who is driving it, or even if they know how to drive." (DCMS, 2004, pg 39).

5.2. Amongst those who did express a view on the Governors and their role, there was a fairly widespread current of dissatisfaction with current procedures for their recruitment and selection. As Tongue and Ward put it, "..there is a strong case for the reform of the nature and constituency of the current board of governors.." (Tongue and Ward, 2004, pg 9), which they describe as "..largely unreflective of the diversity of modern society.." (ibid)..

5.3.  On a somewhat different note, other commentators have argued that the existing procedures are not sufficiently robust to provide the BBC with the strategic oversight it demonstrably needs. As Public Voice put it: "...the governors will need to possess an extraordinary strategic grasp of the nature of public service communications in the digital age; together with a great awareness of the social purposes of the BBC, and of its potential to interact with citizens as individuals and in communities.."(Public Voice, 2004, pg 14).  They go on, "..these qualities have not been evident in the composition of the governors in the last decade.." (ibid).

5.4.  We can also note that a number of respondents have gone as far as to suggest that recruitment of BBC Governors should be opened up in ways that go significantly beyond refinements of the 'usual channels' and Public Appointments Unit protocols.

5.5.  In particular, a number of observers (Harvey, VLV, BECTU, CPBF, NUJ) have suggested that there would be scope and merit in significantly greater transparency in the recruitment process, including some degree of direct voting for candidates by licence fee payers.

5.6. In a notable comment piece, Michael Gove has remarked on the prevailing culture of secrecy which pervades current procedures: "..At least the BBC allows us to vote for our favourite comedies. But when it comes to choosing who will actually run the corporation, we, the public, are treated no better than fools and horses; dumb creatures who have to accept what they're given.." (Gove, 2004).

5.7. Gove suggests that it is time to 'let in a little daylight on the magic of BBC governance' (ibid). Like other respondents, he suggests that it is time to allow the public at large to vote for candidates to these posts. As he puts it, "..the BBC plays a critical role in our democracy. It's about time democracy started playing a role within the BBC.." (ibid).

5.8. In their own response, the BBC notes that the precise functions and duties of the BBC Board of Governors were only set out in the Charter for the first time in 1997 (BBC, 2004, pg 123) and they observe that "..people are demanding ever higher standards of openness and accountability from their public services...The BBC's standards of responsiveness and accountability must be exemplary." (ibid, pg 127).

5.9. That said, although the Corporation makes a number of proposals on reform of governance matters, nowhere in its 10 pages of argument (BBC, 2004, pp 123-133) does it specifically address the issue of Governor recruitment or selection, except to note that "..the choice of BBC Governors is for the DCMS and not for the BBC.." (ibid, pg 129), and to reiterate that the Board of governors "..should continue to be comprised of people with a wide range of different experiences and skills..". (ibid, pg 129).

6. The BBC Governors - How They Relate To Senior Managers

6.1.  As the DCMS consultation paper notes, the BBC Governors have a "dual role" (DCMS, 2003, pg 24): providing strategic oversight as de facto non-executive directors; secondly regulating the BBC on behalf of the public interest.

6.2. As a range of respondents noted, the existing arrangements place a heavy and arguably somewhat contradictory burden on Governors, who are expected to act as both "flag wavers" for the BBC (Liberal Democrats, 2004, pg 5) and regulators of it.

6.3.  In the view of some respondents, this has made the Governors overly dependent on the BBC's senior management for information and perspective,  creating an institutional dynamic in which "..the Governors themselves can appear merely to be rubber-stamping the corporate line.." (BPG, 2004, pg 58), rather than arriving at a properly independent oversight of BBC activities.

6.4.  As a result, a range of respondents (e.g. Liberal Democrats, CPBF, NUJ, VLV,C4) took the view that the Governors as a body required additional capacity to achieve this oversight. For the bulk of those who took his view, the way forward was to provide the Governors with their own staff or 'secretariat', together with associated measures to augment the 'checks and balances' aspects of the Governors' role. Emblematic of this approach was the VLV's suggestion that "..the Board of Governors should have separate funding with their own secretariat, administrative staff and offices outside the BBC.." (VLV, 2004, pg 4).

6.5.  In their own proposals for change, the BBC acknowledges that Governors need to exercise more robust oversight of BBC activities and plans. As they put it, in future the Governors "..will act - and be seen to act - fully independently of the BBC's management and will be resourced properly in order to make informed and independent judgements.." (BBC, 2004, pg 128).

6.6. They go on to outline plans for a "..dedicated and strengthened Governance Unit.." (ibid), reporting solely to the Chairman and Governors, and note that both "..will be located apart from senior management, to underpin their different roles and independence from management.." (ibid, pg 129).

6.7.  Lastly, we can note that the recent Graf Report on the BBC's online service also made comparable proposals to strengthen Governor oversight, especially as regards access to more expert and independent advice - proposals which the Governors have welcomed (BBC (2004b)).

7. The BBC and Ofcom

7.1.  As has been widely remarked, the new Communications Act gives Ofcom a significant degree of external regulatory oversight over the BBC. As the DCMS summed it up,  Ofcom now monitors and enforces "..quotas for independent productions, most programme code standards, the minimum level of original productions, regional programme making, provision for the deaf and visually impaired and international obligations.." (DCMS, 2003, pp. 23-24). It also shares responsibility with the Office of Fair Trading for oversight on a range of 'competition' matters as they pertain to the BBC.

7.2.  Ofcom also has statutory duties to review and benchmark the overall 'public service broadcasting' landscape as a whole, and this requirement (like Ofcom's inception more generally) has raised the question as to whether it might not be more effective to bring the BBC fully within the ambit of Ofcom.

7.3. We can note that the arguments in favour of this approach have been taken up by - amongst others - the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. They revisited this view in their recent Report on 'Broadcasting in Transition', which noted that their last general survey of the issues (in 2001) had commented that ".. "The balance of evidence submitted to us, including from the current regulators, was in favour of the BBC being regulated entirely by Ofcom." When the previous Committee advocated a single communications regulator in 1998, the recommended duties included "oversight, for all broadcasters, including the BBC, of broadcast content regulation and the commercial activities of broadcasters, with direct oversight of their implementation". The present arrangements are untidy and lack consistency. The BBC's Royal Charter review will provide an important opportunity to adjust the relationship between the BBC and Ofcom.." (House of Commons (2004) para. 51.).  

7.4. If the current dispensation is one in which BBC governance is already shared with Ofcom, the Select Committee's view above is indicative of a range of voices who favour a more or less rapid transition to a position in which Ofcom takes on a more complete regulatory role. For example, Channel 4 - in their Charter Review submission - support an immediate strengthening of  the regulatory role for the BBC Governors (as discussed above), but go on to balance this proposal by suggesting that: "...The new Charter should be formally aligned with Ofcom’s quinquennial review of public service broadcast television, with a consequent expectation that the Charter would undergo an in-depth review at the end of five years, which should cover the level and method of funding, the range and remit of services, and governance.  This five year review should include an explicit examination of the desirability of moving final regulatory control of the BBC from the Board of Governors to Ofcom.." (Channel 4, 2004, pg. 10).

7.5.  Conversely, many respondents (Liberal Democrats, VLV, NUJ, CPBF, Prowse, Public Voice, Harvey) were firmly opposed to extending Ofcom's remit in the direction of a more complete regulatory oversight of the BBC.  As the Liberal Democrat submission noted, Ofcom is "..primarily an economic regulator. This means it is an unsuitable body to regulate the public service element of the BBC.." (Liberal Democrats, 2004, pg 7. ). This perceived 'mismatch' between Ofcom's regulatory ethos and the wider 'political-constitutional' role of the BBC was a recurrent theme of those - such as Prowse (2004) - who stressed the wider 'public interest' remit of the BBC, which they did not regard as adequately registered via 'market' or wholly 'economic' criteria.

7.6.  That said, for some respondents (Tongue and Ward, CRA, Liberal Democrats) the solution to this problem of regulatory mismatch would be solved by setting up a new regulatory body whose ethos and remit were explicitly tailored to provide external oversight of the BBC, and - by implication or design - the 'PSB' remits of other broadcasters.

7.7. Not surprisingly, the BBC itself remains unpersuaded of the merits of either of these options. 'Building Public Value' reiterates the objections of others about incompatible ethos and the BBC's distinctiveness. They also point to the potential risks in extending yet further what Prowse terms Ofcom's 'panoptic' reach: "..under this proposal, all regulation of content and service development for the British broadcasting industry would rest with one regulator. Its power would be unprecedented in UK media history. Ofcom's views on the needs, values and tastes of the British people would be the only ones that counted. In many ways, plurality in broadcast regulation is as important as plurality in broadcast content.." (BBC 2004, pg 133).

7.8. Equally, while a separate additional 'PSB' regulator would enhance regulatory pluralism, it would - the BBC's suggests - inevitably be subject to the implementation dilemmas that shape all external regulators, and without the direct 'power of the purse' capacities to pursue its vision that the BBC Governors can deploy.

8.  The BBC Governors - How They Relate to the Public

8.1. In the summary of their Charter Review public consultations, the DCMS noted that "..The majority view from all our consultation and research is that the BBC should be more accountable to the public, and responsive to changing opinions and tastes.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 43). The DCMS conducted more in-depth deliberative research, and there was "..a strong sense from this research that the BBC is seen as too remote and bureaucratic.." (ibid). Conversely, the consultations registered "..a strong sense that public involvement might extend further than at present, delivering advice and feedback on broader strategic and policy issues.." (ibid).

8.2.  As these findings indicate, the relationship between the BBC and the public is a somewhat paradoxical one. Both the DCMS and the BBC itself invoke the idea that the public at large (as both citizens and licence-fee payers) are 'stakeholders' or 'shareholders' in the BBC, and in 'Building Public Value' the BBC goes so far as to say that "..The BBC is owned by the British public.." (BBC, 2004, pg 129).

8.3. As the DCMS findings indicate, the public are inclined to feel that this 'ownership' should bring with it a more significant degree of responsiveness to public concerns, and a greater level of public involvement in the overall direction and shaping of the BBC as an institution.

8.4. Of particular note in this context, the conventional constitutional 'solution' to this conundrum - public accountability via Parliament and Government - was, as the DCMS notes, quite emphatically sidelined by their public consultations.

8.5. As the DCMS report notes "..It was very clear from all strands of research and consultation that there is little public appetite for greater accountability of the BBC to either Government or Parliament.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 45). Indeed they note "..of the 42% of respondents to consultation who raised accountability as an issue, only 11% said they wanted greater accountability to Government, compared to 63% who said they wanted less.." (ibid).

8.6.  As noted below, the most widely mooted enhancement of public accountability would be for some degree of directly elective component in the make up of BBC Governors - a theme registered in the DCMS consultations, and echoed by a number of the respondents surveyed here (VLV, Harvey, NUJ, Gove, Liberal Democrats).

8.7. That apart, the DCMS  noted that a range of respondents favoured additional efforts by the BBC to strengthen accountability to the public, with a range of suggestions on how this might be done. These included: regular opinion polls, more formal viewer and listener forums, more effective use of on-line mechanisms, more regular public consultations, and a stronger, more rapid complaints procedure (DCMS, 2004, pg 43).

8.8. The BBC themselves - in 'Building Public Value' - show a recognition of the need for change on these fronts, and for this change to be both demonstrable and visible.

8.9. As a result, 'Building Public Value' outlines a set of measures to augment the dialogue and engagement between the Governors and the public (BBC, 2004, pp 129-132). These include:

- Incorporating public and audience views more systematically into the rolling review of BBC services and activities.

- A regular Public Value Review of the BBC, based on a large-scale public survey.

- Providing additional online mechanisms whereby the Governors can interact with the public, seek views, respond to current issues, hold digital 'surgeries' on specific themes and strands of BBC output.

- Enhancing the BBC's network of advisory councils, and fostering a programme of open meetings between these bodies, the Governors and the public at large.

- A revised and strengthened complaints process, with a new Head of Complaints reporting directly to Governors.


9. The Royal Charter

9.1. In terms of what Peter Hennessy has termed 'the hidden wiring' (Hennessy, 1995) of the British political system, Royal Charters are managed via the Privy Council, and, historically, have been conferred on those bodies and institutions which (in the Privy Council's own words) ".. can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field..". (Privy Council).

9.2. As with the lobbying in the 1980s to secure a Charter for the BFI, Charter status has been seen in recent decades as a way to blunt the more abolitionist tendencies in modern British politics.

9.3. That said, if the core case for retention of a Royal Charter is simply to act as a talisman to ward off the vampire of abolition, then it becomes a little clearer why even the BBC is now willing to contemplate alternatives.

9.4. Events over the last year, and the Charter Review debate indicate that the core challenges to the BBC are not couched in terms of abolition per se. There is no suggestion from the present government that the BBC might be abolished, quite the reverse. The Culture Minister has been repeatedly emphatic that the BBC will continue: "..the only certain outcome of Charter Review will be a strong BBC, independent of Government.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 2).

9.5.  However, as the DCMS consultation report notes, "..there was a strong view held by a wide range of industry respondents, particularly other major broadcasters, that the BBC's system of governance and regulation is in need of some degree of reform.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 40).

9.6. In agenda terms, the choices in prospect are therefore looking likely to be more 'mid range', neither abolition nor the status quo. At very least, it seems likely that the Charter - if retained - could be subject to significant amendment and clarification, so as to address a variety of current governance issues in more detail, and (a recurrent theme of some commentators) to do so in more precise and contemporary terms.

9.7. On this basis, the questions at issue would include:

Question: Can the Charter offer a legal framework which is sufficiently robust to incorporate the prospective changes, or would it be preferable and simpler to start afresh with a new legal instrument?

Question: For those who feel the arguments favour a fresh start, are there compelling grounds for preferring any one of the currently scouted alternatives? 

Question: Lastly, what measures might be taken to raise the level of public understanding and engagement with these issues of BBC governance, which on current modalities appears to be rather low?

10. BBC Governors - Recruitment and Selection     

10.1. Dissatisfaction with the 'sotto voce' character of recruitment and selection to key positions in British public life has been a recurrent refrain for many decades, and it would be unlikely that the BBC - as an 'estate of the realm' - would be exempt from these pressures. 

10.2.  In 'constitutional' terms, the BBC's own stance is evidently one in which any changes on this front are matters for the Government of the day, more specifically for the DCMS - illustrating again how governance questions have a broader ambit than more obviously 'internal' agendas.

10.3.  More generally, if both the DCMS and the BBC would like to see a more informed and engaged 'social contract' between the Corporation and the licence fee paying public, then reform in this respect has merit as a way to achieve this.

10.4.  The findings of the DCMS consultation on Charter Review registered significant public interest in this issue. They note that "..there were calls for the Governors to be more representative of licence fee payers - going further, one recurrent suggestion was the election of one or more governors by licence fee payers, an idea supported by many public respondents.." (DCMS, 2004, pg 44.)

10.5. Seen in a wider context, we can note that other key national bodies (such as the National Trust) have grappled with reform of these domains, including the elective aspects, and have emerged with renewed legitimacy and purpose from their changes.

10.6. With that proviso, we can draw out certain distinct matters of possible reform, and aspects of this topic which are -at least prima facie - in current debate. These would include:

Question:  Are there areas of information and procedure where recruitment and selection of BBC Governors could be made more transparent and open,  even if the underlying process remained wholly or broadly unchanged ? If so, how would such improvements in transparency be best carried through?

Question:  If reforms were to be extended to measures designed to alter the character and mix of BBC Governors,  how might this be done?

Question:  In particular, if there was support for the calls to embrace an elective element in the recruitment of Governors, how far should this extend, and what procedural methods could be used?

11. How Governors Relate to Senior Management

11.1.  The current indications are that at least some of the proposed reforms designed to clarify and re-work the Governor - senior management axis are now under way, as outlined in the BBC's Charter response (see Wells, 2004).

11.2. In practice, moves to augment the standing and profile of the BBC Governors have been in process since at least the Summer of 2003, when new posts for 'performance and accountability' and 'communications' were created, and the current proposals from the BBC give these more weight and momentum, due -no doubt- to the upheavals of the last year.

11.3. How these new arrangements 'in the making' will work in practice, and whether they will be sufficient to assuage the more sceptical elements in Government and elsewhere remains to be seen.  Prima facie, the new outline Governors 'ecology' represents a significant step change beyond the parameters of the inherited model.

11.4. That said, the bulk of the reforms outlined have yet to be worked through, and many questions about the details and performance in practice remain inevitably unanswered. If the ambition is not just to augment Governor capacity, but to do so in very visible and demonstrative ways, then current developments at the BBC raise as many questions as they provide answers.

Question: Do the proposals for additional expertise, more considered reporting on activities, greater transparency, etc offer enough 'leverage' to dispel the doubts of those who have been most critical of the capacity of the Governors to exercise adequate oversight?

Question:  By what means will the details and substance of these changes be made known and visible to the wider public?

Question:  Will the proposed shifts in operation meet the disparate oversight concerns of the various BBC 'stakeholders'?

12. The BBC and Ofcom

12.1.  As recent developments indicate, the BBC is moving to re-cast and reform the role of the BBC Governors in a manner which is clearly designed to render the case for additional external regulation - by Ofcom or another PSB agency - effectively redundant.

12.2.  The new remit and game plan for the BBC Governors are sketched out in 'Building Public Value' along lines which paint them as a necessarily unique combination of regulatory flair and managerial gusto: able to warn and advise, but also to demand and deploy.  Whether this pre-emptive defence will be sufficient to forestall the imposition of additional external oversight from Ofcom or others remains an open question.

12.3. Clearly, the new governance regime the BBC has in hand will be more explicit, a little more resource rich, more elaborate in character than its predecessors. Nonetheless, there are a range of questions that it poses:

Question: Will it be able to balance the adversarial elements of regulation with the more collaborative dynamics of resource allocation?

Question:  Will the BBC's proposals be sufficient to ward off the arguments in favour of an additional PSB agency?

Question:  To the extent that the new regulator-Governor model works to assuage external critics, will that come at the price of counter-productive antagonism between Governors, senior managers and staff?

13. BBC Governors - How They Relate to the Public

13.1.  The indications from the DCMS consultation process that the public are seeking a more extensive and considered relationship with the BBC are not unexpected, and are consonant with the more demanding, more 'post deferential' temper of the times.

13.2.  Equally -in what is one of the more striking findings from the DCMS consultation - this coexists with a decided lack of enthusiasm by the public for any measures which might subject the BBC to more stringent oversight via the traditional political avenues of Parliament and the Executive.

13.3. The roots of this antipathy to 'the usual channels' are likely be found in two factors. The first is a protracted decline in the standing and legitimacy of both the formal political system and the place of Parliament within it. (Marquand 2004, Martin,2001; Shrimsley, 2001). Secondly, this trend has evidently been exacerbated in recent months by the events surrounding the Hutton Inquiry and the public reaction to the interplay between the Government and the BBC.

13.4.  As a result, this more assertive climate is not likely to be deflected or satisfied by conventional measures of indirection, but is clearly seeking a more unambiguous and emphatic shift in the degree of public involvement by the public in the governance of the BBC. As Gove notes, the public has taken very warmly to this more 'populist' inflection at the level of specific programmes, and there is evidently an appetite for similar shifts at the broader corporate level.

13.5. How the public will respond to the changes outlined by the BBC to date remains to be seen.  Questions that might be asked include:

Question: Will the package of changes proposed by the BBC prove to be more than cosmetic in their long-term effects?

Question: Are there aspects of the BBC's online presence that might be used more decisively to enhance relations with the public?

Question: How far will the Governors go in practice to make themselves more available to direct interaction with licence-fee payers?

Question: Are their disadvantages to the new current of 'populism', and what might they be?

Appendix : List of Selected Publications

Anon. (2003) 'BBC Governors sharpen up PR act', Broadcast, June 20.

Barendt, E. (1993) 'Constitutional Aspects of BBC Charter Renewal' in C. Shaw, [ed] Rethinking Governance and Accountability, BFI Publishing.

BBC (2004) Building Public Value - Renewing the BBC for a digital world, BBC.

BBC (2004a) Review of the BBC's Royal Charter - The BBC's Response to the DCMS consultation, BBC.

BBC (2004b) Press Release - The Graf Report on the BBC's Online Service - statement by the BBC Board of Governors, July 5.

BECTU (2004) BBC Charter Review - DCMS Consultation, BECTU.

Broadcasting Policy Group [BPG] (2004) Beyond the Charter - The BBC After 2006, Broadcasting Policy Group.

Channel 4 [C4] (2004) BBC Charter Review, Channel 4.

Cox, B.  (2004) Free for All ? Public Service Television in the digital age, Demos.

Cox, B.  (2004a) 'The BBC Is Not The NHS', Prospect, August.

Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom [CPBF] (2004) Submission to the DCMS on the Review of the BBC's Royal Charter, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom.

Creators' Rights Alliance [CRA] (2004) Submission to DCMS Review of the BBC's Royal Charter, Creators' Rights Alliance.

Curran, J. (1998) ‘Crisis of public communication: A reappraisal’ in T. Liebes & J. Curran [eds], Media, Ritual and Identity, Routledge.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] (2003) Review of the BBC's Royal Charter, DCMS.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2004) Review of the BBC's Royal Charter - What you said about the BBC, DCMS.

Gove, M. (2004) 'We the viewers deserve a say in the BBC's leadership soap', The Times, March 30.

Harvey, S. (2004) Submission to the BBC Charter Review.

Hennessy, P. (1995) ) The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution, Gollancz.

House of Commons (2004) Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Third Report: Broadcasting in Transition, HC 380, March. The Stationery Office.

Liberal Democrats (2004) Review of the BBC's Royal Charter.

Marquand, D. (2004) The Decline of the Public: The Hollowing Out of Citizenship, Polity.

Martin, P. (2001) 'Lost in the ruins of empire', Financial Times, December 11.

National Trust (2003) Report on The Governance of the National Trust: Report of the Governance Review Group to the Council of the National Trust, National Trust.

National Union of Journalists [NUJ] (2004)  Submission to the DCMS on the Review of the BBC's Royal Charter.

Ofcom (2004) Ofcom review of public service television broadcasting: Phase 1 - Is television special ?, Ofcom.

Prowse, M.  (2004) 'Don't let Ofcom redefine the public interest', Financial Times, May 28.

Privy Council Website,

Public Voice (2004) Submission to the public consultation on the future of the BBC.

Shaw, C.  [ed] (1993) Rethinking Governance and Accountability, BFI Publishing.

Shrimsley, R. (2001) 'Mother of parliaments seen as a frail, toothless granny', Financial Times, December 6.

Tongue, C. and Ward, D.  (2004)  Submission to the BBC Charter Review Public Consultation.

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Sylvia Harvey
Professor of Broadcasting Policy
Principal Associate Director
AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies
Faculty of Media and Humanities
University of Lincoln
Brayford Pool
Lincoln LN6 7TS

Tel: 01522 886431


Last modified 11 November, 2005 ;