Radio Times has called on John Whittingdale to reopen the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s BBC Charter Renewal Public Consultation after it emerged that Government officials failed to read at least 6,000 responses from the magazine’s readers.
The demand came after it emerged that Whitehall officials failed to view the 6,085 online responses from Radio Times readers which were sent following the launch of the public consultation in July 2015.
Radio Times published 16 questions which mirrored those in the Department of Culture Media and Sport’s [DCMS’] official consultation, inviting their readers’ views on the BBC, including the programmes it makes and the future of the licence fee.
More than 9,000 Radio Times readers responded: around 3,000 by post with a further 6,085 digital replies, which were then delivered to the DCMS on an encrypted memory stick for data protection purposes.
But the DCMS published its consultation report without ever requesting the password to open the file – and therefore cannot have taken the responses into consideration.
The DCMS report was published on 1st March, with Mr Whittingdale telling the Oxford Media Convention the following day that all the responses were read and considered.
“Every response we received matters,” he said. “Every response we received has been read. And every response we received has informed the document we published yesterday.”
Radio Times has written to Mr Whittingdale and the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport asking for the reopening of the consultation to include its readers’ responses.
Radio Times Editor Ben Preston said: “We have serious concerns about the Government’s failure to consider the responses of our readers to the consultation on the review of the BBC’s Royal Charter. Radio Times readers have an important voice on issues which affect the BBC, and have been excluded without justification from a process which initially welcomed them.
“We have a duty to our readers, and have asked the Government to reopen the consultation as a matter of urgency to make good on its promise that it would listen to everyone’s views. We have notified the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of our concerns and we await the Government’s response.”
Shadow culture secretary Maria Eagle also supported the magazine’s call. She told RadioTimes.com: “The Culture Secretary said repeatedly that all submissions to the consultation on BBC Charter Renewal had been read. It has now been revealed that at least 6,000 have not.
“How can the Government claim to be taking its own public consultation on the BBC seriously when Ministers didn’t even bother to read all the submissions before publishing their response?
“Licence Fee payers have taken the time to let the Government know their views on the future of the BBC, an issue many people are rightly passionate about. Ministers are clearly too busy fighting amongst each other over Europe to listen properly to the public’s views on the BBC.
“John Whittingdale must now be clear about exactly why these submissions were ignored, and why they chose to publish the results of the consultation anyway.”
A spokesman for viewers pressure group The Voice of the Listener and Viewer added: “The DCMS undertook that every response would count towards the consultation. If that’s not been the case then it’s something of grave concern to us.”
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] spokeswoman said that the written responses have been considered but the DCMS has not yet looked at the online responses despite publishing the results of the consultation. She added that the 6,000 online submissions from Radio Times readers would be read sometime in the future.
However, the spokeswoman was unable to indicate when they would be read, when readers would know they had been read and how they would impact the Government’s thinking.
During the consultation, some Tory MPs criticised pressure group 38 Degrees which they said had hijacked the process after urging its member to submit their views. It was claimed that 177,000 submissions – 92 per cent of all responses – were sent via 38 Degrees.
This prompted Rona Fairhead, BBC Trust chairman, to write a letter to Whittingdale expressing her concerns that that some of the responses might be ignored. The DCMS said at the time: “All responses have been treated equally.”
The consultation report acknowledged that the involvement of 38 Degrees “undoubtedly contributed to what was one of the largest ever public consultations.”
Published on Tuesday 1st March, the consultation showed that the public believes the BBC provides value for money, helps raises broadcasting standards and should not be cut back in size or scope.
Just 2 per cent of the public felt the BBC’s basic purpose and values should be changed, according to the results which received 192,000 responses.
More than four-fifths of responses (81 per cent) indicated that the BBC is serving its audiences well – although it should do more to cater for younger viewers and black and ethnic minority audiences.
The majority of responses suggested that “the BBC has been doing enough to deliver value for money, although many responses also said that the BBC must continue to improve in this area.”
Almost three-quarters of responses (74 per cent) indicated that the BBC’s content is “sufficiently high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters”.