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Sunday, February 05, 2017

BBC licence payers deserve a strong, independent regulator

BBC licence payers deserve a strong, independent regulator: "Non-executive directors are all appointed by the secretary of state for culture, media and sport (DCMS). Of its current six, three have affiliations with the Conservative party. The deputy chair, Baroness Noakes, takes the Tory whip in the Lords. Graham Mather is a former Tory MEP. And the chair, Dame Patricia Hodgson, while not politically active, is a former head of the Conservatives’ Bow Group and featured in Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher as her regular lunch companion.

The chair carries a double question-mark as she was a long-time senior executive at the BBC until she left in 2000. Dame Patricia will be wise to every trick in the BBC book, but at moments of political tension she is liable to face accusations that she is too familiar with the players to be a proper referee. 

That frontline referee may have to be Ofcom chief executive, Sharon White, who until 2015 was a second permanent secretary at the Treasury. Ms White has fine civil service values. But when fan and ordure meet, she will have to prove her detachment from government.

 Ms White’s caution, along with Dame Patricia’s BBC background, played a role during my time chairing the content board. I succeeded Tim Gardam, a former television executive, on the basis that Ofcom and the DCMS felt independence from the BBC could best be displayed by choosing a former print editor instead of an ex-BBC person.

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 The trouble with journalists, it transpired, is that they write. Perhaps alarmed by the febrile atmosphere surrounding the June 23 referendum, Ms White decided in May that for the chair of the content board to publish articles on matters of public policy could produce a conflict of interest should editorial complaints arise about such issues.

A legal opinion was produced to back this up, one which should, on the face of it, have ruled out my recruitment in the first place. Accordingly, Ofcom negotiated an amicable settlement for the early termination of my contract.

Four months later, DCMS secretary of state, Karen Bradley, overturned the settlement, alleging that three tweets, one Italian interview and an article about “Preparing for President Trump” amounted to “misconduct” and that Ofcom had no power to negotiate a deal.

 Suspicion of the establishment is running high. So it is crucial that the BBC should have regulators who are seen to be independent of mind and stiff of spine. Instead, the DCMS and Ofcom’s leadership appear to believe that having editorial regulation fronted by an independent writer is a greater risk than having the main board dominated by one party.

Contrary to Lord Patten, “ever more powerful” does not seem the main danger. Supine and too close to government represent bigger worries.  'via Blog this'

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