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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Q&A: The future of the BBC
The debate over the future of the BBC has taken another turn with the corporation's request for an above-inflation increase in its licence fee. It comes as the government prepares to renew the BBC's charter until 2016.

WHAT IS THE BBC CHARTER?

The unique way the BBC is paid for and governed means it is owned by the British people and accountable to them.

The charter, drawn up by the government, together with an accompanying Agreement sets out the ground rules for how the corporation should be run, structured and funded, and what its purpose should be, for a 10-year period.

Dirty Den's demise in EastEnders
EastEnders is one of the BBC's biggest hits
It is effectively the BBC's licence to exist and operate. The first charter came into force in 1927.

The current charter runs out at the end of 2006, so the next charter will come into force at the start of 2007.

The charter review process looks at every aspect of what the BBC does. It is an opportunity to examine whether it gives audiences what they want and need, makes a difference to people's lives and genuinely provides a public service.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the BBC have been canvassing opinion about how the corporation should develop in the 21st Century.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR VIEWERS AND LISTENERS?

As a BBC reader, viewer and listener, the BBC charter is important for two main reasons.

Jeremy Paxman and Tony Blair on Newsnight
Newsnight is cited as an example of public service broadcasting
It determines how much TV viewers must pay. The current fee is 126.50 per year for a colour set and 42 for black and white.

The charter will also shape the types of services the corporation provides.

It could affect the types of programmes on TV and radio and the content of its websites. The current charter says the BBC's main objective is to provide "information, education and entertainment".

Some think the BBC has been too occupied with ratings-chasing populist programmes and its public service role should be more clearly defined and imposed.

That could mean more focus on news, documentaries, culture and community issues, for example, which are seen as beneficial and important to the country as a whole.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

On top of the everyday output, BBC supporters say a healthy, independent public broadcaster is vital to a vibrant, well-informed country.

The corporation says its role is to provide high-quality, creative and trustworthy services for everyone that other broadcasters cannot always provide because of commercial pressures.

The BBC also says it exists to investigate and challenge those in authority on behalf of the British people.

Former BBC chairman Gavyn Davies with former director general Greg Dyke
The BBC's top two figures resigned over the Hutton affair

That came to a head over the Hutton Report, which was sparked when a BBC journalist claimed the government took the country to war in Iraq on the basis of intelligence it knew to be wrong.

The government assured the corporation it would be not neutered or punished in the wake of that battle - but the fallout hangs over the charter renewal process.

The future of the BBC, as the UK's largest broadcaster, is also vital for the country's media industry. For example, the charter looks likely to give more work to independent production companies.

WHAT WILL BROADCASTING BE LIKE IN 10 YEARS?

By the time the next charter runs out, in 2016, the broadcasting landscape is likely to be radically different.

In 2012, the government hopes to finish converting everybody in the country to watching digital TV.

BBC TV ratings have declined as multi-channel viewing, through services such as Sky Digital and Freeview, has become more popular. Almost two thirds of the country now has multi-channel TV.

The popularity of digital radio is also increasing while the BBC is testing a system of making its TV programmes available to download via the internet. Its radio output is already on the web, with some programmes available for download.

The pace of technological change means no-one can predict the challenges the BBC is likely to face by the time its existence next comes up for discussion.

WHY DOES THE BBC WANT A RISE IN ITS LICENCE FEE?

The BBC says it needs the money to meet the challenges in the future. Its plans include the introduction of new local TV and radio services, opening up its archives to the public, and building a system where its programmes are available for free on the internet in the UK for up to seven days after their first transmission.

It also plans to invest in high-definition television services - Sky will introduce these to the UK in 2006. The BBC says it needs 5.5bn to fund these plans. It says it can contribute 3.9bn through efficiency savings, but it is asking for the rest to come from a licence fee increase.

Separately, the BBC has been asked by the government to fund some of the costs of converting the UK to digital TV. It is asking for an extra increase worth 500m to fund this. In total, the BBC would like the licence fee to rise each year by 2.3% above the rate of inflation until 2013.

WHAT IS THE GREEN PAPER?

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell is responsible for the Green Paper
In March, the Green Paper set out the government's proposals for the BBC's future role, functions, structure and funding.

It is the latest stage in the build-up to the renewal of the corporation's royal charter at the end of 2006.

A Green Paper is a consultation document that contains policy proposals for debate and discussion before a final decision is taken.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The issues raised in the Green Paper have gone forward for consultation.

A parliamentary select committee will consider charter review issues and the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is conducting its own inquiry.

A White Paper - a document issued by a government department that contains detailed proposals for legislation - will be published in late 2005.

This will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and further consultation before becoming the basis for any new royal charter by the end of 2006.


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