The submission by Sian Powell and Caitriona Noonan (School of Journalism, Media and Culture, Cardiff University) focuses on the Welsh public service broadcasting landscape in the context of political devolution. According to Powell and Noonan, while there is clear evidence of ‘success and a well-placed sense of optimism’ about the recent changes to the Welsh television sector, key issues remain, including a limited range of news sources about devolved politics, and a significant decrease in investment and production of English language programming in Wales. And while Powell and Noonan acknowledge Wales as being the key site for drama production, they also point out that the drama produced ‘rarely reflects life in Wales and Wales is solely a location for filming rather than part of the narrative setting.’ Creating the content that is representative of Welsh communities in the context of the decentralisation of broadcasting services is crucial, and it can be achieved by increasing financial resources, enabling local decision-making and strengthening a cultural commitment to change the public service landscape. Read Noonan and Powell’s submission in full here.
Public service broadcasting, according to Dr Ken Griffin, occupies a critical role in Northern Irish society as a provider of non-sectarian news and current affairs coverage. According to Griffin, UTV, has particularly strong connection with its audience and has built an excellent reputation for independent journalism during the Troubles. However, ITV’s recent takeover of UTV has ‘introduced considerable uncertainty about the station’s future’ due to ‘conflicting business models’, with a risk of diminishing local TV output. BBC NI, on the other hand, while ‘consistently securing lower ratings than UTV’, is a ‘highly valuable television service’ and the only NI provider for speakers of the region’s two minority languages and providing a ‘far wider range of programming’ compared to UTV. The governance provisions within the White Paper, however, focused on boardroom numbers rather than nomination procedures, and thus ‘represent a significant threat to the BBC’s editorial independence.’ Read Griffin’s submission in full here.
As the creative industries skills partner, Creative Skillset‘s (CS) submission looks at the key factors that enable relevant skills provision from entry to executive level. While Creative Skillset works across the creative sectors, the submission focuses on the television industry and public service broadcasting more specifically, which, according to CS, has been a driving force for innovative and high quality content across genres. However, with the rapid pace of change in business models, technology and audience behaviour, there is a high demand for a more ‘holistic and collaborative approach across not just PSBs but all screen-based industries’. CS identifies barriers to entry in creating a workforce from a wide range of backgrounds, and a ‘systemic culture of those wishing to gain industry skills having to undertake unpaid ‘work experience’, affecting the current state of diversity in the PSB workforce. According to CS, the Government’s Apprenticeships levy, if implemented properly, could provide ‘a timely and effective opportunity for industry to help diversify and supply a cohort of new entrants to PSB.’ Read Creative Skillset’s submission in full here.
Michael Bailey (Department of Sociology, University of Essex) offers a comprehensive submission in which he critically examines the historical thinking that shaped television’s social purpose and its democratic mission. He reflects on how these ideas can guide and shape current debates of the role of public service television in the context of the medium’s changing production, distribution and consumption practices. Bailey’s submission, amongst others, reminds us of the enduring values of good policy interventions which are enabling rather than prohibitive. He highlights Richard Hoggart’s important distinction between duties and rights for programme makers, legislators and viewers alike. The public’s duty is ‘to respect other people’s tastes’; legislators have a duty ‘to create structures and methods of financing for broadcasting which encourage the production of ‘good programmes’ and ‘to enable disparate voices to be heard’ and the duty of programme makers is to commission programmes that ‘bring before us all the widest range of subject matter, the whole scope and variety of human awareness and experience, the best and the worst, the new and the challenging, the old and familiar, the serious and the light [thus] enriching the lives of every one of us.’ Read Bailey’s submission in full here.
The Inquiry, chaired by Lord Puttnam, welcomes those commitments in today’s white paper that will provide the BBC with a degree of stability and confidence at a time of huge transformations in the media landscape. We remain, however, vigilant about the threats to its independence and its remit as a universal public service broadcaster.
We have a number of concerns:
- We accept that a new system of governance is necessary and believe that, if properly constituted, a unitary board is likely to serve licence fee payers more adequately than the existing setup. We believe, however, that the involvement of DCMS in the appointment of up to half of a new and powerful unitary board – including the chair and deputy chair – will not inspire public confidence and is not a sufficient guarantee that the government, in the words of the culture secretary, will “ensure [that] the independence of the BBC is beyond doubt.”
- Further to the above, we would like to see an appointments process that is meaningfully independent of government and that is not contaminated by the possibility of personal or political patronage. Licence fee payers need a Board that is both free of government intervention and one that is committed to holding the BBC to account where necessary.
- Regarding the BBC’s commitment to innovation, we are especially concerned that the sixth public purpose – that of developing new technologies in the public interest – has been scrapped. We feel that the BBC has made a huge contribution in the field of innovation – from the development of colour TV to the iPlayer more recently – and we would strongly argue that this purpose should be retained.
- While limited parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s funding plan is provided for, the white paper firmly rejects the proposal that the licence fee should be set by an independent body. We note that the 2015 settlement requiring the BBC to pay for over-75’s tv licences was not subject to any parliamentary oversight and it is far from clear in today’s white paper, how the new process for setting the licence fee will ensure that the 2015 settlement process is never repeated.
- The white paper acknowledges the need to increase accountability to the nations of the UK but there is little detail about how representative voices from the devolved nations can more fully participate in the governance and the regulation of the BBC.
- the eleven-year charter extension which will remove the decision-making process about the future of the BBC from the electoral cycle and will create a space in which to debate and discuss how the Corporation can best respond to ongoing changes in distribution and consumption.
- We are particularly pleased to see that the government has chosen to enshrine diversity as a core purpose of the BBC and we look forward to the development of concrete measures, underpinned by dedicated funding, that will transform both the employment prospects and representation of all minority communities.
- We are also pleased that a whole series of proposals that would have undermined the ability of the BBC to cater fully to the needs of licence fee payers have been scrapped. We are grateful that government listened to public opinion that showed little appetite for moves to curb the scope of BBC services, to top-slice the BBC’s budget or to prevent the BBC from running popular programmes at times of its own choice.
- Janie Ironside Wood, Head of Communications, A Future for Public Service Television Inquiry. E: firstname.lastname@example.org | M: +44 7730 047 511