BBC Trust Should Be Abolished, License Fee Replaced, U.K. Parliament Report Says

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The governing body of the public broadcaster "has failed to meet expectations," while the fee on TV homes should in the medium-term be replaced by a levy on all households.

A committee of the U.K. parliament said in a report on the future of the BBC on Thursday that the BBC Trust, the public broadcaster's governing body, should be abolished and that the license fee that British TV homes pay should eventually be replaced by a levy on all households.

The BBC Trust "has failed to meet expectations and should be abolished," while the license fee must be replaced over the medium term.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons said in a summary of the report, published just after midnight, that the BBC is "still a valued and important feature of national life but in need of stronger governance and more challenging, independent oversight if it is to be held accountable." The BBC Trust is led by recently named chair Rona Fairhead. 

 

"The BBC Trust should be abolished and new arrangements made for the governance, regulation and oversight of the BBC," the report summary said. "The BBC should have a unitary board with a non-executive chair, who would be known as the BBC chairman."

In addition, "a new rigorous and independent Public Service Broadcasting Commission (PSBC) should be established with the role of scrutinizing the BBC’s strategic plan, assessing the BBC’s overall performance, and determining the level of public funding allocated to the BBC and others."

The report also said that there was "no long-term future in the license fee" that TV homes must pay and set out advantages of a broadcasting levy for all households similar to the one used in Germany, but said a new funding system was only likely after 2020. "In the short-term there is currently no better alternative to the license fee but as a minimum the license fee must be amended to cover catch-up television as soon as possible," it said.

The report added: "A broadcasting levy on all households is the preferred alternative but a degree of subscription for BBC services could be a possibility in the future."

The report comes as the BBC prepares to negotiate a new royal charter to replace one that expires at the end of 2016. The charter sets out its public duties, ensures its independence and sets out the duties of the BBC Trust and the BBC executive board. The cross-parties report will play a key role in the debate over the next charter.

The parliamentary committee concluded: "There are major questions to be answered about what justifies the close to £4 billion ($6.2 billion) of public money spent on the BBC, and on what the scope and scale of its activities should be. Moreover, there is a danger that the BBC will, by accident or design, crowd out smaller rivals and inhibit their ability to prosper."

Committee chair John Whittingdale said: "Over the last few years the BBC has suffered from a succession of disasters of its own making, yet it remains a widely admired and trusted institution, and fulfills many important functions both at home and abroad. However, when an organization is in receipt of nearly £4 billion of public money, very big questions have to be asked about how that money is provided and spent, and how that organization is governed and made accountable."

He added: "In the short term, there appears to be no realistic alternative to the license fee, but that model is becoming harder and harder to justify and sustain."

The report also argued: "The BBC has tried for too long to provide 'something for everyone': it should reduce provision in areas where others are better placed to deliver excellence and better value for money, and make bigger, braver decisions on its strategy."

Email: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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