You may not agree with all of it, but I think it’s a very interesting attempt to get to grips with the behemoth the Corporation has become, without, in his words, ‘destroying it or alienating that large part of the public that likes a lot of its output’.
Here’s his action plan for how a government that was responsive to public wishes could reform the BBC:
1. Revoke the BBC Charter and replace it with an emergency charter which will allow for the following actions:
2. Introduce elections to the BBC Executive Committee. These would be similar to building society and trade union elections. All household members covered by licence fee payment would have a vote. Subsequently subscription payers would have the right to vote.
3. Introduce strict statutory limits on the percentage of BBC staff who may earn over £70,000, £100,000 and £150,000. This would effectively slice off the top-heavy management layer at the BBC.
4. Legislate that if the BBC fails to meet its Charter broadcasting requirements for more than one week in one year, it will be dissolved. That will prevent any long-running strike action in opposition to the new policy.
5. Announce a five-year programme for reduction and eventual abolition of the licence fee.
6. Announce a ten-year programme for moving towards a full subscription service for the BBC (with some central government support over this period). Allow the BBC to accept sponsorship for its programmes, but keep them ad-free. In return all households are automatically enrolled on to the subscription service unless they opt out. The subscription to be limited to 50 per cent of the current licence fee. The BBC would have to pledge not to axe popular programmes in reaction to this new financial dispensation.
7. Privatise all BBC local radio stations.
8. Abolish the BBC Asian Network and Radio 4 Extra. Merge Radio 1, Radio 1 Extra and Radio 6 Music. Create a wide-ranging online digital archive for the BBC.
9. Create Independent Appointment Boards for all BBC staff whose salary exceeds £50,000. These boards to include representatives from all national newspapers, major local newspapers, private radio and TV companies, relevant academics and government appointees.
10. New Charter for BBC to clarify its role. This would require it to, for example, (a) promote British values (b) not promote totalitarian ideological systems (whether political, religious or otherwise) (c) not exclude the views of any bona fide scientists (persons with relevant qualifications) on the grounds that science is ‘settled’ (d) ensure it undertakes objective analysis of programmes, especially news and current affairs, to ensure they are balanced and publish the analyses and (e) ensure its presenters and all persons who appear across its programmes reflect accurately the make-up of British society.
There would be a Charter Commissioner to ensure the BBC meets its Charter requirements. There would be an Independent Complaints Service to deal with complaints from subscribers. This would be totally independent of the BBC and could require the BBC to publish prominent apologies if they are found to have been at fault. There would also be a fast track mechanism by which petitioners (maybe set at 100,000) could demand the Charter Commissioner deliver a formal report to Parliament if they feel the BBC has failed to meet its charter requirements.
This article was first published on Is the BBC Biased? on September 1, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.
TCW Editor’s note: This is a good starting point for a debate about BBC reform, privatisation or closure. You can comment below the line but if you would like to submit your thoughts as an article please send to email@example.com, titled ‘BBC Debate’.