THE BLOG

It's Time for a People's BBC

31/03/2016 11:09 | Updated 31 March 2016

The BBC is undoubtedly one our greatest British institutions; a first class public service broadcaster; generating high quality content; the envy of the world.

But like any organisation, particularly in this globally competitive age, to ensure it succeeds in the future the BBC must have a governance structure which is fit for purpose. This of course means a regime which ensures it is pursuing the right strategic objectives and its executives are held to proper account for the decisions they make. Undoubtedly some of the options being considered by Government and proposed by the Culture Select Committee are capable of delivering that.

However, there are growing number of us that believe these are necessary but not sufficient criteria for effective BBC governance. Instead we believe a more radical approach is required.

Because the reality is that the BBC isn't like any other organisation, and at present it is plagued by two related problems which none of the options which appear to be under active consideration will fix - namely it has an ownership deficit and an accountability gap.

The BBC is a 'public service' broadcaster; which operates under a Royal Charter; agreed between it and Government; governed by a Trust of the great and good that are appointed by Ministers; and funded by us the license fee payers. But who owns it? Confused? So are we.

And to whom is it accountable - not least when it comes to the expenditure of more than £3bn of our money? The BBC Trust which is at the apex of this great structure is accountable to, well no one really. This creates a lack of public accountability and creates a vacuum into which political interference from government (of any colour) can leak.

Unfortunately, merging the BBC Trust and the management board and bringing in some external regulation by OfCom or a new 'OfBeeb' - the most likely outcome of the current 'consultation' - fails to fundamentally address either of these two problems.

But there is arguably something even more problematic for those of us that want to see the BBC thrive in the future. The BBC now operates in a highly competitive marketplace, with the days of 20 million people all sitting down at the same time to watch Eastenders, all but gone. The companies and organisations that are succeeding most now are the ones that manage to move beyond a transactional relationship with their customers (and indeed their workforce) and build a real connection and relationship.

It is for all of these reasons that we believe the Government and the BBC should be bold and adopt a more radical change in governance during this Charter Review. We, and thousands of people who have signed the People's BBC petition, believe the BBC should be mutualised. This would mean TV license holders becoming members and owners of the BBC - solving the ownership deficit. These members would elect representatives (in the biggest exercise of democracy outside of general elections) to hold the executive management to account. Thorny issues like executive remuneration and tough decisions about the prioritisation of constrained resources would be decided at an AGM open to all to attend in person or on-line. This would begin to deal with the accountability gap and be a powerful bulwark against political interference.

Finally, such a transformation would build a sense of reciprocity and connection, which is at the heart of the membership concept. This would bring new legitimacy to the license fee and bring the BBC and the audience together - an audience without which the BBC cannot flourish.

Ensuring the BBC is able to remain a great British institution in the decades ahead requires more than timid tinkering. It is time for a radical re-think which puts the BBC in the hands of the British people who fund it and in whose interests it is intended to operate.

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