The Countryside Alliance has responded to an Ofcom consultation by raising significant concerns about the “limited nature” of the proposals for Ofcom to regulate the BBC.
This morning, a story about the proposed new Governance featured in the Daily Mail which covered our views.
In May the Government published a White Paper stating that the BBC Trust would be abolished and that Ofcom would take over responsibility for regulating the BBC. It was proposed that Ofcom have oversight of Editorial Standards complaints and that they hold the BBC to account with regard to impartiality and accuracy. The new BBC Charter is scheduled to come into effect on 3 April this year.
However, the Countryside Alliance has stated that the reforms do not go far enough. The Countryside Alliance has learnt that Ofcom will only regulate and consider editorial complaints relating to broadcast news and current public policy. Far from being the sweeping change that many are expecting, Ofcom will have no role in regulating the vast majority of BBC content (documentaries, drama, sport, BBC news online etc). In these areas the BBC will continue to police itself.
The role of Ofcom will be limited to enforcing the statutory obligations of the Broadcasting Code, based on the Communications Act 2003, which limit the requirements for due impartiality and due accuracy to broadcast news and current public policy only. Whilst this approach may be acceptable for other broadcasters, it does not take account of the BBC’s unique position as a state funded broadcaster or the requirements of the new Charter and Agreement which demand higher editorial standards than other broadcasters.
In February 2015 the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee proposed that all editorial appeals should go to Ofcom. The Committee commented: “We recommend that Ofcom become the final arbiter of complaints over BBC content including matters concerning impartiality and accuracy.” This was supported by the Clementi Review in March 2016 which stated that: “Ofcom’s scope should be widened to enable it to have oversight of editorial complaints, including for ‘accuracy and impartiality’ in respect of all the BBC’s linear broadcasting and video on demand output.”
Commenting on the changes, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner said:
“It is extremely disappointing to learn that Ofcom’s role in relation to regulating the BBC will be confined to broadcast news and public policy. Over the past year we have had a number of serious concerns about the BBC’s editorial standards and portrayal of rural communities. However, the majority of BBC output that we have complained about does not fall under broadcast news or public policy. Our understanding is that the BBC will continue to be the sole regulator and final arbiter in these areas and there will be no Ofcom oversight. This goes against what was recommended by Sir David Clementi in his March 2016 report where he made clear that Ofcom should have oversight of editorial complaints in respect to all of the BBC’s linear broadcasting and video on demand output.”