Gorkana Notes From Basecamp – March 3rd 2014
The debate started off with the recent news that BBC3 will soon be moving to an online service and was followed by a discussion about governance at the BBC, the issues and confusion between the role of the Management board and the BBC Trust as well as Executive pay. Finally, the panel spoke about the importance of the licence fee and asked the fundamental question…is the BBC actually in crisis?David Liddiment, a member of the BBC Trust, is a keen supporter of the role of the BBC within British culture and its foreign commerciality. He explained that the BBC Trust will conduct a public value test to make sure that the BBC3 move has been in the best interest of the licence fee payers. He went on to say that the BBC has to recognise change and that technology and licence fee payers attitudes are changing. In terms of Executive pay he feels that it was part of their contractual entitlement and that it was how the world was in 2002 to 2004. However, Liddiment argued that the Trust has reduced Executive pay by 25% and stopped Executive bonuses, which has saved the BBC £100 million in the last few years.
David Elstein argued that ‘the only logical consensus would be a long and drawn process that reveals that the whole structure of the BBC is wrong’. He admitted that although the Trust has done some good work but in other ways it has been pretty poor and believes that Ofcom had done a far better job to expose the flaws of the BBC. Furthermore, he explains that in comparison to CBS, the BBC has made £60 million in selling its programming abroad, whereas CBS has made £600 million. For him, it is important to roll out BBC channels abroad. He finished by stating that he believes the BBC should be a subscription service and that fundamentally ‘we shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the BBC’.
Steven Barnett explained that there are no mechanisms of accountability and there are no external checks at the BBC, which is a sensible way of spending licence fee payer’s money. The BBC Trust’s initial core purpose was to externally check that what the BBC is doing is in the best interest of the licence fee payers. He continued to explain that within the BBC Trust there has been confusion between being a cheerleader for the organisation as well as the regulator. Moreover, he feels that the BBC is an anomaly as it is part of the marketplace and part of the state, yet at the same time independent from both. Furthermore, he thinks that the BBC should do more collaborations and partnerships with local communities and journalism. However, he concluded that ultimately in comparison to the BBC in the late 80s that the BBC is not actually in crisis.
Suzanne Franks feels that the BBC3 move would be the end of salami slicing which they did with the Asian network and Radio 6. Moreover, Franks reveals that the key demographic for BBC3 probably tends to watch most of its content online anyway, so the BBC may have creatively avoided a big fight. Furthermore she feels that in terms of Executive pay, Tony Hall has done the best that he could. She compared the BBC Trust’s crackdown on Executive pay as ‘trying to close the stable door but the horse had long bolted.
Sir Howard Davies was asked the fundamental question ‘was the BBC Trust ever a good idea?’ Davies explained about the problem of governance and that good governance is not the be all and end all. He believes that there should be a disparate board of Executives and Governors and affirms that the BBC Trust should clearly be a regulator and not have anything to do with the running of the BBC. Davies revealed that the BBC Trust is far too close to the BBC and that the Chairman of the Trust has mistakenly referred to himself as the Chairman of the BBC. He feels that at the beginning of the next Charter review, it would be good for the BBC to neutralise its negative publicity and added that the BBC should have a smaller licence fee to fund the key public interests but also have a subscription fee on top.
The debate closed with the question of how to increase the confidence in the BBC. Liddiment feels that the employees should feel the privilege that the BBC affords and have more confidence in the value of the BBC. Franks feels that Tony Hall should be allowed more freedom and not have his actions judged negatively. Barnett added that the BBC should gain more of a political backbone and Elstein finished the debate controversially with a bold statement, detailing that the BBC should not be so self-satisfactory and be more willing to ask radical questions.
Read the article on the Gorkana Notes From Basecamp site here.