BBC independence is being “eroded” says director general

Tony Hall calls for a full external regulator of the Coroporation for the first time and says its unique independence from the Government and market forces has enabled it to make classic programmes like The Office, Detectorists, Blackadder and Car Share

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BBC director general Tony Hall is to warn that the BBC’s independence is under threat from the Government and commercial broadcasters who want it to make programmes that they have failed to.

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In a speech in Cardiff tonight, Lord Hall will issue a stark warning about the BBC’s future which he says is being gradually “eroded” by hostility form Whitehall and commercial providers who want to define the Corporation’s remit to suit their own ends. 

His speech will argue that the BBC’s independence has enabled it to take risks that others wouldn’t and should be protected at all costs. 

“It is independence that should allow us that creative freedom… Aware of the market, but not led by it… Answerable to Parliament, but free from political influence… Not having to navigate ‘no-go’ areas or define ‘good’ in advance. But allowing programme makers to focus on making their programmes, and letting risk of failure be the price of success.

“It is independence therefore – from the market and from Government – that ultimately should allow us to act as a magnet for creative talent, an incubator for creative ideas, and an engine for the UK’s creative growth.”

Sections of the speech to the Cardiff Business Club, which have been disseminated by the BBC, also say that areas of Corporation spending have been monopoilsed Govenrment ministers which is not the duty of the BBC to cover.

“First, the licence fee was spent on things that were not directly to do with broadcasting. On digital switchover. On rural broadband and local TV. Then twice it was settled without a full process.

“Now the era of fixed-term Parliaments has brought the BBC’s five-year funding reviews firmly into the political cycle.  Some have even suggested – though not the Government – that the Charter Review should follow the same rhythm. 

“The truth is that a five-year Charter would effectively dangle a Sword of Damocles over the BBC’s head – calling our future into question at every election and stopping the corporation from planning or investing in any long-term, sustainable way.”

Hall’s speech argues that “substantive changes to the BBC should be subject to a vote in the house and by licence fee payers.”

The speech also cites programming such as Blackadder, The Office and more recent shows like Peter Kay’s Car Share and Mackenzie Crook comedy Detectorists as example of programme that were given space to “evolve” at the BBC and become successes.

“This is about creativity at the BBC not being afraid of failure. It needs to recognise that you can’t find the next Blackadder or Bake Off without taking risks.”

Hall also says that he is happy for the BBC to be regulated by an external regulator such as Ofcom and not the BBC Trust in order to “hold our feet firmly to the fire on distinctiveness.”  

“I don’t want a system that stifles us… That tells us how to do our job, rather than the job we should be doing…That freezes today’s BBC in aspic so that we can’t respond to tomorrow… Or says that our services should be scheduled by our competitors rather than for our audiences.

“Some think that the BBC should only be able to produce what the market doesn’t. That our creativity should begin only where others fail, always second-guessing the market and backing away from the most promising ideas.

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“Regulation must be effective, but not prescriptive.  And it must not become paralysing… Because for all the BBC’s social and economic contribution, if we overload it with overlapping objectives… bind it up with inflexible regulation… we will smother what makes it special.”