The BBC’s director general Tony Hall is “effectively accountable to no-one” and the BBC Trust should be abolished and replaced with a beefed-up regulatory board, a report by an influential Parliamentary select committee has stated.
Calling for a radical overhaul of the way the BBC is regulated, the report by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee says that the Corporation should have a unitary board chaired by an independent figure as well as a separate regulator.
It said that under the current system of governance by the BBC Trust, Hall “operates with too high a degree of independence”.
“At present the corporate governance of the BBC falls some way short of what is desirable,” said the report. “The Director General operates with too high a degree of independence; operationally, he is effectively accountable to no-one. The Trust’s Chair has limited capacity to scrutinise executive performance beneath the Director General, and the Chair’s power to fire a Director General is too blunt an instrument to be effective in relation to operational matters.”
The MPs said the new chair of the unitary board should be a “significant figure, ideally with acknowledged experience in managing large organisations”.
The MPs also called for greater transparency over pay at the broadcaster, especially in its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
It said “there appears to have been little or no restructuring, and there are still concerns about pay and management levels”.
The committee also denounced the so-called “luvvies letter” signed by 29 TV and film stars last July as “entirely unacceptable”.
Signed by a selection of actors, presenters and writers – including Dame Judi Dench, Graham Norton, Sir David Attenborough and Stephen Fry – the letter urged the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from being ‘diminished’ and is believed to have been orchestrated by former director of television Danny Cohen and BBC strategy director James Purnell.
The report said: “The BBC is by some margin the most powerful and influential national broadcaster. It does not lack voice, and it has access to many avenues of legitimate lobbying and protest. It was entirely unacceptable for the BBC to be secretly using stars to campaign ‘independently’ on its behalf, let alone to deceive journalists as to whether this had taken place.
“It was wrong to have used taxpayers’ money for this purpose, and to have involved employees who may have felt pressurised to take part. It was wrong to put up a news story online which failed to disclose its own involvement. The BBC should not have defended itself by arguing that this obviously underhand activity was somehow acceptable because it fell within editorial guidelines. And it is very disappointing that the Director General refused either to investigate or disavow the episode, and that the Chair saw no case to answer and defended the BBC’s actions.”
The select committee has no executive power over legislation, but their views will carry enormous weight with the Government as it finalises its proposals on the renewal of the BBC’s charter at the end of the year.
The BBC Trust responded to the report with the following statement: “We welcome the committee’s endorsement of the Trust’s proposals in 2015 for substantial reform of the BBC’s governance – including the creation of a unitary board and strong independent regulation, specific to the BBC.”
The BBC executive also released a statement, which said: “Like the committee, we think the BBC should be externally regulated – we believe that a unitary board would be good for the BBC and strengthen accountability.”
On the subject of the so-called luvvies letter the BBC said: “There are no rules preventing the BBC or its staff from making our case on broadcasting issues, and indeed the BBC has always been able to do so.”