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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 18:31 GMT
Davies' vision of BBC's future
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By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent
line
An analysis of how the BBC will fit into the government's plans to regulate broadcasting with its proposed body Ofcom.

What are the BBC governors for?

Do they run the BBC, deciding what sort of programmes and services it should provide?

Or are they its regulators, making sure the BBC is run in the public interest and spends its 2.5 billion of licence-payers' money wisely?

The answer is a bit of both - and that's the problem. In this increasingly "accountable" age, regulators are expected to be clearly separate from the organisations they regulate.

Gavyn Davies
Gavyn Davies: Governors play a role outside Ofcom
That's why Gavyn Davies, the new BBC chairman, has taken steps to make clearer what the governors do and how that differs from the job of the executives, who run the BBC day-to-day, led by the director general Greg Dyke.

The BBC has been criticised - by MPs and the commercial broadcasting sector - for having too cosy a relationship between the governors and the executives.

And with the government about to streamline the way broadcasting and telecommunications are regulated, many have argued that the system of BBC governors has had its day and the posts should be abolished.

Instead, they say, the BBC - like commercial broadcasters - should come under the new single regulator Ofcom, which is due to replace the "alphabet soup" of existing bodies like the Independent Television Commission, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the Radio Authority and Oftel.

BBC
BBC: Criticised for being "too cosy" with governors
Mr Davies argues that, under the government's plans, the BBC will be "under Ofcom" in many crucial areas - such as economic regulation, standards of taste and decency, and quotas on the amount of regional and independent production required.

But he says the governors play a separate role that should not be fulfilled by Ofcom.

"A 'light-touch', largely commercial, regulator like Ofcom is suited to wield back-stop powers over the increasingly relatively limited public-service remit of private broadcasters," he says.

"But in the case of the all-encompassing public service remit of the BBC, a light touch regulator is not sufficient.

"Detailed regulation by a Board of Governors is necessary."

Objectives

But Mr Davies also believes the BBC system needs modernising.

For the first time, he's set out a clear statement of the different roles of the two boards.

"The board of governors ensures the BBC serves the public interest by setting key objectives; approving strategy and policy; monitoring performance and compliance (and reporting on both in the Annual Report); ensuring public accountability; and appointing the director-general and, with him, other key executives," he says.

By contrast, "the executive committee runs the BBC in the public interest by proposing key objectives; developing strategy and policy in the light of the set objectives and operating all services within the strategic and policy framework".

Advice

To separate the two boards more clearly, the governors will directly appoint and manage the external auditors who monitor fair trading, instead of doing so through a BBC executive.

The programme complaints unit will be moved away from the governors, into a department run by a BBC executive - and if a complainant is dissatisfied with the unit's finding they can appeal to the governors' Programme Complaints Committee, which will be run separately.

A new department will be set up to give the governors independent advice and support, and individual governors will be given responsibility for monitoring the BBC's performance against its set objectives.

Are the changes enough to satisfy the BBC's critics? Probably not.

Overdue

Mr Davies says the most fervent critics include commercial competitors who want to "marginalise the BBC's role" in broadcasting.

But others also say they don't go far enough.

The National Consumers Council said greater accountability and a clearer role for the BBC Governors were long overdue, but ultimately the interests of consumers would be best served if the BBC was regulated by Ofcom.

The Labour MP Chris Bryant, a member of the Culture Committee, who's campaigned for greater reforms, said the moves were very welcome, but it still felt as if the BBC were regulating itself.


Talking PointFORUM
Put your questions to Gavyn DaviesBBC chairman
Quiz Gavyn Davies about the corporation
See also:

26 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
New regulation plans for BBC
01 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
Gavyn Davies starts BBC job
31 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
Ofcom 'could fine BBC'
15 Mar 01 | UK Politics
MPs want more BBC regulation
19 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Tories attack new BBC choice
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