U.K. culture secretary addresses RTS confab

Says BBC must slim down, cut its regulatory board

CAMBRIDGE, England -- The BBC must slim down, cut salaries and get rid of its oversight committee the BBC Trust if the stability and success of the "mixed economy" of commercial and public British broadcasting is to be maintained, culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said Wednesday.

Making his debut as a government minister before an audience of policymakers and broadcasters at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Conference, the former BBC reporter said that the BBC "had probably reached the limits of its reasonable expansion" and should open its books to the National Audit Office for scrutiny.

Pointing out the BBC's rapid expansion from a two-channel broadcaster to a broadcaster with a television, radio, online, on-demand and publishing footprint, Bradshaw said further expansion would destabilize the media ecology.

"If it were to continue on anything like that trajectory, the rest of this industry would be right to be worried and the mixed economy would be seriously imbalanced."

But the minister in charge of media and broadcasting policy rejected recent criticisms mounted against the BBC by News Corp. Europe and Asia chairman James Murdoch, who two weeks ago described the pubcaster as "Orwellian" in scale in a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

Dismissing Murdoch's pro-profit thesis as a statement with which he "profoundly" disagreed, Bradshaw nonetheless said Murdoch "did us all a favor by asking legitimate questions and raising genuine concerns, and urged the BBC to be "sensitive" with regard to its expanding role in online and regional news.

Bradshaw argued that the BBC's regulatory board, the BBC Trust, should be overhauled.

"I'm concerned about the regulatory structure of the BBC -- although the Trust has performed better than the predecessor I don't think it is a sustainable model in the long-term."

Bradshaw said the Trust's dual role as "both regulator and cheerleader" was out of step with other public bodies.

But his comments were rejected by BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons, who said the Trust had fulfilled on all its obligations.

"We would be happy to be judged on our performance. We have a job to do and we will absolutely do it. If we fall foul of the secretary of state of the day that is regrettable, but so be it."
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