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BBC to Review Governance Issues

Chris Patten P
Chris Patten

The U.K. public broadcaster will "re-examine the relationship" between its executive and its governing body as Britain's culture secretary issues a warning.

LONDON -- The BBC said late Wednesday it would review its much-criticized governance set-up.

The news follows a report that highlighted excessive severance payments and a parliamentary hearing that showed deep divides and miscommunications between different parts of the BBC.

The U.K. public broadcaster said it would "re-examine the relationship" between its executive team and its governing and supervisory body, the BBC Trust, amid "questions about the BBC’s current governance systems."

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The BBC added: "The aim is to simplify the relationship and provide better and clearer oversight of the way the license fee [that U.K. taxpayers must pay to help fund the BBC] is spent."

The project will use existing resources within the BBC rather than outside consultants and involve "a comprehensive review of the BBC’s internal governance systems and structures and the culture that surrounds them," the broadcaster said.

The goal is to provide more clarity about responsibilities of BBC management, led by the director general, and the BBC Trust, ensure effective decision making, find agreement on a way the two sides can work together "that prevents possible misunderstanding or confusion" on key issues and avoid duplication and overlap.

In a joint letter to U.K. secretary of state for culture, media & sport, Maria Miller, BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten and director general Tony Hall said: “We are confident that there is space within the current [BBC] charter to make an improvement in the way that the BBC is run and managed and to ensure a primary focus on what audiences want and need and how we spend their money."

Miller spoke about the review at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention late Wednesday, warning that it was up to the BBC to make its current set-up work before negotiations about a new charter that details its organization and tasks once the current one expires in 2016.

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Arguing that it wasn't "any good to wait until the next charter review in 2016" to change things, she lauded Hall for having started addressing problem areas. "The acceptance that there is confusion is key," she said, but emphasized she would "watch closely" how problem areas are addressed.

Hall made a surprise appearance in the audience and made some brief comments after her speech. "Thank you for saying we will bounce back. We will do," he said.

"I really hope that [this review] makes the issues much clearer, transparent and makes [things] work."

Miller also said during her speech that "the BBC's corporate dramas should never be allowed to eclipse its actual dramas on screen."

And she warned: "We will continue to keep the BBC's structures and effectiveness under review."

Miller also argued that the National Audit Office, Britain's public auditor, should get the power to look at any area of financial concern at the BBC "without hinderance or delay." She cited excessive severance packages as one example.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai