Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Q&A: Public service broadcasting review

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

Media regulator Ofcom has called for a shake-up in public service broadcasting in its report Putting Viewers First, to ensure the BBC continues to face competition.

WHAT IS PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING?

Ofcom logo
Ofcom's report looks at the challenges to traditional broadcasting
Public service broadcasting covers all those sorts of programmes that a commercial broadcaster would probably not make if they were only interested in making a profit and getting the biggest audience.

This includes news and current affairs and, in the past, has also included children's, arts and religious programming.

WHY WAS THE REVIEW NECESSARY?

The financial model which meant that such programmes could be funded by television advertising has broken.

There is now not enough advertising for the terrestrial channels to adequately fund unprofitable public service programmes.

This is partly because of the credit crunch and partly because of more choices for advertisers with the explosion of TV channels through digital and satellite, as well as online.

WHAT WERE THE MAIN FINDINGS?

That the BBC must remain as the cornerstone of public service broadcasting but that it also needs a competitor.

Channel 4 needs to form part of a bigger entity to provide that competition.

That could be done through a series of partnerships, joint ventures or even mergers - possibly with BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm, possibly with Five or possibly with other companies.

WILL THE BBC HAVE TO GIVE UP SOME OF ITS LICENCE FEE TO OTHER BROADCASTERS?

That is not clear.

Ofcom says it does not want to "top-slice" the BBC's income - money that is currently used for BBC programmes and services.

However, there is one slice of the licence fee that is ring-fenced to pay for the switchover to digital TV - it will pay for set-top boxes for the elderly as well as an information campaign.

If any of that money is left over, it could, Ofcom suggests, go to other broadcasters.

As the ring-fenced money comes out of the licence fee, the BBC would argue that would still constitute slicing the licence fee.

WHAT WAS SAID ABOUT REGIONAL NEWS?

In future, ITV will provide less news coverage in the devolved nations and English regions.

Ofcom says it is very important that somebody else should be providing that news and that it will probably need to be publicly funded in some form.

That could include grants from the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.

It says that, in the devolved nations, there are interesting conversations going on about ways that could be provided.

Those new programmes may still end up on ITV but they would not be made by ITV.

THE REPORTS SAYS NEWS COULD BE PROVIDED BY INDEPENDENTLY-FUNDED NEWS CONSORTIA. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

It is not clear but it could mean regional newspapers, ITN or news agencies, such as the Press Association and Reuters.

WHAT DOES THE REPORT SAY ABOUT THE INTERNET?

Ofcom says that the internet is very important because broadband and mobile are going to expand and so there should be public service content on there.

It wants to see a range of different suppliers for that funded in a range of different ways.

WHO WILL MAKE DECISIONS ON THESE ISSUES AND WHEN?

Ofcom has made very few decisions. It has made recommendations and given options for the government to decide upon. It is still not clear what the government's view is.

Those in the industry say urgent decisions must be taken.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is going to speak later this week.

And next week, Lord Carter, the broadcasting and telecommunications minister, is going to publish a draft report called Digital Britain which will cover some of the same ground.



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