Peter Kosminsky condemns BBC White Paper: “You can kiss goodbye to the BBC being an independent broadcaster”

The director of Wolf Hall is troubled by the government's proposal to set up a new 'unitary board' for the BBC with government nominees

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Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky has followed up his Bafta speech with a strong condemnation of the government’s plans for the future of the BBC.

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Responding to the publication of the BBC White Paper on BBC News, the director said he was still troubled by the government’s proposals for a new ‘unitary board’, which will replace the BBC Trust and be responsible for governing the broadcaster’s activities.

Kosminsky said that this new board, which will include members appointed by government, would damage the BBC’s reputation as “one of the most trusted brand in the world”.

“If word gets out that the BBC’s editorial board has six government nominees on it, you can kiss goodbye to any sense of the BBC being an independent broadcaster,” he said.

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According to the White Paper, while at least half of the board will be appointed by the BBC itself, the remaining members will be appointed through a “public appointments process” led by government.

This, Kosminsky says, is his major concern for the future of the BBC: “Some of the more terrifying proposals have failed to reach the White Paper it’s true, but the central one which troubles me, and which was the subject of my speech at Bafta on Sunday, is still there.”

He added, “There’s this other body, the unitary board as it’s called, and that’s basically an in-house BBC body. And that’s going to have, as I understand, six government places on it nominated by the DCMS [Departure for Culture, Media and Sport]. Now, why do we need government nominees on a public service broadcaster?

“The prime minister talked about the BBC being the best-known brands in the world, but as far as I’m concerned the BBC is one of the most-trusted brands in the world. And if word gets out that the BBC’s editorial board has six government nominees on it, you can kiss goodbye to any sense of the BBC being an independent broadcaster.”

The BBC has voiced its concerns over the make-up of the new unitary board, calling it “the most significant reform in the BBC’s history”. 

BBC Director General Tony Hall said, “We have an honest disagreement with the Government on this. I do not believe that the appointments proposals for the new unitary board are yet right. We will continue to make the case to government. It is vital for the future of the BBC that its independence is fully preserved.”

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In his speech to Parliament, culture secretary John Whittingdale explained that BBC governance failures had forced him to examine reform of the BBC Trust. He argued that the new unitary board would create “a much clearer separation of governance and regulation”, and that for the first time the BBC would have the ability to appoint the majority of the governing body independent of government.

“Editorial decisions will remain the responsibility of the Director-General – and his editorial independence will be explicitly enshrined in the Charter – while the unitary board will consider any issues or complaints that arise post-transmission,” Whittingdale told the House of Commons.

According to the White Paper, the new BBC governing body would have a responsibility to deliver “an efficient BBC” that delivers value for money for the licence fee payer, and oversee the future strategy of the Corporation. It will have to report annually on how BBC finances are managed, how senior executive pay is determined and how BBC complaints are handled.

Kosminsky said following Whittingdale’s speech that the idea of having government appointees on an editorial board was “an anathema”.

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“The idea that the government of the day has a say over who is on the editorial board… This is not a state broadcaster like you get in the eastern bloc of old, this is an independent element of free speech. Why does the government have any right to put anyone on that board?”