Creators' Rights Alliance
Submission to
DCMS

Review of the BBC’s Royal Charter

Introduction

The Creators' Rights Alliance brings together 16 major organisations representing over 85,000 copyright creators and content providers throughout the media. Details of the current affiliated members are included in Appendix 1.

Many of our affiliated organisations will also be making their own, specific, responses to the DCMS Consultation on the BBC Charter Review. This submission represents the broad consensus reached by the Creators' Rights Alliance.

We welcome the opportunity provided by the DCMS to respond to the questions in the Review of the BBC's Royal Charter and also look forward to further consultation during the Charter Review process. We hope that both individually and through the Creators' Rights Alliance the views of our members' will continue to be taken into account.

Executive Summary

The BBC Today
As the largest employer of creators in Western Europe, the BBC provides the base for the creative community in the UK. We would like to see this nurtured and developed in the future.
A Changing Landscape
We welcome the opportunities that innovations in technology bring to the creative community, particularly in terms of broadening participation and training.
Publicly Funded Services & Functions
We would like to see more original, creative programming that is not afraid to allow writers and directors, for example, to have a point of view. The comprehensive news service provided by BBC On-Line is good for the BBC and good for the UK. BBC News continues to be a core activity with an unrivalled worldwide reputation.
Commercial Services
We believe that the activities of BBC Worldwide should be curtailed where they abuse the moral and/or intellectual rights of creators.
Paying for the BBC
We strongly believe that the licence fee is the only viable way to fund the BBC.
Organisation & Infrastructure
If the UK is to sustain its unique creative and cultural voice in a world increasingly dominated by large international corporations it needs a BBC that has the benefit of significant economies of scale together with a commitment to public service content and broadcasting.
Governance, regulation, constitution
We believe that the strategic and regulatory functions of the BBC Board should be separated. Additionally, the governance of the BBC needs to be reviewed throughout the whole organisation, not just at senior level.
Accountability
The BBC needs to put its trust in the people who demonstrate responsible leadership, rather than in systems.

The BBC Today

We believe that the BBC is an integral part of the nation's fabric and a cultural ambassador on behalf of the UK. As the largest employer of creators (including writers, directors, musicians, journalists, composers and designers) in Western Europe, it provides the base for the creative community in this country. The BBC should be encouraged to continue to adapt and grow to meet the needs of the future.

The BBC belongs to the people of the UK in a way that no other broadcaster does or could. It is an integral part of our lives and is a trusted, reliable source of information, unpolluted by political or financial shareholder interests. It is unique in its ability to educate, inform and entertain without the influence of advertisers, sponsors, politicians or financial shareholders. It is at the heart of our democracy.

The BBC has made a profound and significant contribution to the life of the UK since its inception in 1922 right through to the introduction of BBCi in the 1990s and the current move into digital services. Through its global presence, it has promoted UK culture and talent and had a significant economic impact both directly and indirectly. Nationally, regionally and locally the BBC has grown, adapted and been at the forefront of creative and technological developments.

The BBC sets the standards of broadcasting in the UK. By also creating diverse and original content the very presence of the BBC ensures that other channels have to invest in new programming to protect their audience share.[1] We are concerned that, if this balance were to change, the incentive to invest in new, meaningful, programming, that reflects the uniqueness of the UK, would be lost.

Over the current Charter period, the BBC has continued to be at the cutting edge of innovation and has maintained and developed a comprehensive mix of new programming and services, including the move into digital channels and BBC On-Line.

The BBC nurtures and provides opportunities for new talent in the UK that is unmatched by other organisations. Many people currently employed in the broadcasting industry received training and or experience with the BBC: from comedy writers to set designers; documentary makers to make-up artists; stage managers to film producers.

The information supplied on BBC On-Line is untainted by a frame of advertisements and forms an integral part of the BBC package helping to promote UK creative talent across the globe.

The constituent parts of the United Kingdom generally appear to be well served by the BBC with drama and factual programmes being represented from each of the countries and many of the regions. Over the years creators have gravitated to where the work is that is mainly London but also Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester etc. However, changes in technology, recording and broadcasting methods break down geographical barriers and mean that increasingly creators are able to work more or less anywhere.

Technological advances also mean that community based television can build on the success of local BBC radio, increasing access and opportunities in developing regional identity and local history to the benefit of the whole of the UK. There is also an opportunity, unique to the BBC, to redefine regional and community to the benefit of people at grass roots level while at the same time providing relevant national and international services. The BBC is in an excellent position to be part of community based initiatives to find, train and develop creative talent to the benefit of individuals, their communities and the wider world now and for the future.

A Changing Landscape

We welcome the opportunities that innovations in technology bring to the creative community, particularly in terms of broadening participation and training.

Targeting channels at particular ethnic / cultural groups has some advantages, in that it means that potentially everyone has a voice, a platform. However, there is a danger that channels could become ghettoised and hit a spiral of underfunding thus defeating their main purpose and proving more divisive. We believe, therefore, that it is vital that each programme whether niche or mainstream is adequately funded. This will act both to ensure a quality threshold and to encourage the development and involvement of the best creative talent in programme making.

Niche channels clearly provide an opportunity to supply specific, targeted programmes but there is also a need for a culturally diverse package of programmes to be broadcast on BBC1.

Publicly-funded services and functions

As a public service broadcaster, the BBC should aim to provide something for everyone - as it strives to inform, educate and entertain - and there should be a mix of programmes on the mainstream channels as well as on the niche channels.

We believe that the BBC sets the standard in broadcasting in the UK and internationally. Because of these high standards, other broadcasters are forced to raise their own quality thresholds. However, there is a perception that the BBC quality standards have slipped since it has allowed ratings to become its predominant performance indicator. Ratings figures alone are too crude a measure and the BBC must work to a different and subtler set of professional criteria that give proper precedence to issues of quality. The BBC should demonstrate leadership, setting the benchmarks of quality for others in the broadcasting industry.

We would like to see more original, creative programming that is not afraid to allow writers and directors, for example, to have a point of view.

In the area of drama, in particular, there is a sense that the BBC is over-managed. The corporate approach is having a heavy influence, drawing resources and energy away from the "programme creators"; where they belong. In our experience, there is a tendency for nervous commissioning editors to intervene instead of trusting the programme creators, and we are concerned that this harms the character of some programme creation.

The comprehensive news service provided by BBC on-line is good for the BBC and for the UK. BBC news continues to be a core activity with an unrivalled worldwide reputation.

The BBC currently has several initiatives to "discover new talent". We would like to see these developed in a more rigorous manner and to include training schemes.

There is a sense that BBC On-Line does things because it can, rather than because it should. The result is a complete mix of quality some of it excellent, some less so. We believe that BBC On-Line should focus on providing quality web-site support for the programmes it produces and activities related directly to the BBC.

Public Service Broadcasting is what the BBC does. Because they are answerable to shareholders that expect good financial returns, commercial broadcasters work to a different set of principles high ratings, minimum risk - that do not guarantee quality, creativity, diversity or a commitment to original UK produced programming.

In research carried out by Barnett & Seymour, 1999, on behalf of the Campaign for Quality Television, a group of randomly chosen drama and current affairs producers working in British television were interviewed. The research found that as competition and commercial imperatives had increased, there was far more emphasis on re-commissioning existing success stories or sticking to standard formulae. Similarly, in research conducted by Davis & Corbett, 1997 into children's programmes for the BSC the research suggested that there was a tangible shift towards cartoons at the expense of home-produced factual programmes.

Commercial Services

BBC Worldwide activities should be curtailed where they abuse the rights of creators.

As a publicly funded organisation, and a market leader in terms of commissioning practice, the BBC is in a unique and responsible position to maintain ethical standards in the industry. In this light we feel that to continue to insist on assignment of all rights from contributing creators regardless of business efficacy is unfair. It could be argued that the behaviour of BBC Worldwide in terms of their attempted rights grabs, as regards visual arts commissioning, is an example of the corporation abusing its privileged and powerful position at the expense of individual creators and content providers.

We believe that BBC Worldwide should play no part in directly commissioning television programmes. It should concentrate on the necessary function of exploiting secondary sales of programmes. The money Worldwide earns should then go into a central fund so that it is not in a position to commercially influence individual programme makers, content providers or commissioners.

When the government demanded that the BBC maximise programme sales, insufficient thought was given to how this would impact on programme creation. It is respectable to drive the pursuit of new markets for "domestic" product. But the new imperative has also resulted in the production of broadcast material with foreign sales in mind and these reflect the prevailing production values in these markets. This is not an acceptable interpretation of the government's imperative it is evidence of the tail wagging the dog. As creators, we are concerned that the BBC is allowing its commercial arm too much say in how services are driven.

We think that the BBC should wholly own its own repeats channel or simply make its programmes available for any broadcaster to buy. The current situation with UKTV is a strange hybrid.

In the interests of competitive fairness and transparency, we believe that the BBC should restrict its activity as a print publisher to produce publications that are directly related to programmes and / or BBC activities as BBC On-Line should restrict itself for internet publications. As a general principle, all the BBC commercial activities should have clear links to the content of the BBC's public service activities and programmes.

Paying for the BBC

We have thoroughly examined the many options and alternatives to the current licence fee (selling off bits of the BBC, advertising, sponsorship, subscription, state funding, different methods of taxation). We have compared the experiences of different nations and the values of the commercial broadcasters. In conclusion, we strongly believe that the licence fee is the only viable way to fund the BBC.

We want an independent public broadcaster that is able to deliver free-to-air, high quality programmes across all broadcast media, that has creative and cultural values at its heart and that is rigorous in its defence of democracy and freedom from interference by government.

Organisation and Infrastructure

At the same time as considering the funding structure we also looked at the organisation and infrastructure and came to the conclusion that the BBC should continue as a single entity. If the UK is to sustain its unique creative and cultural voice in a world increasingly dominated by large corporations it needs an organisation that has the benefit of significant economies of scale together with a commitment to public service content and broadcasting.

We face a difficulty responding to questions about quotas and independent production companies: very many creators are freelances and are, as such, excluded from the published statistics. Many of the people in the independent sector received their training and early experience with the BBC. Most of the independent productions actually go to large production companies which, like BBC in-house productions (in particular drama series and one/two-part dramas) use a high percentage of freelancers. Quotas are, therefore, misleading. Changes to increase the amount of independent productions could result in a reduction in the engagement of freelances, who are effectively independents. Many of the creators' - writers, composers, musicians, designers and so on - are freelances and depend on the BBC for their livelihoods.

Governance, regulation and constitution

Governments will always be slightly irritated by the BBC, because it is partly the BBC's remit to hold governments to account. At the most senior level, therefore, the BBC needs to achieve separation from political and commercial interests. The current system, though imperfect, has been relatively successful, on the evidence of the editorial and commercial slant apparent in the output of commercial broadcast organisations.

In reviewing the submission to the DCMS by Carole Tongue and David Ward, in terms of the Governance of the BBC, we broadly agree that a solution may well be to separate the regulatory and strategic functions of the Board. This will reduce the Board's capacity and size, whilst introducing an independent council, not Ofcom, to act as the regulator. Because of the significant role that creators play within the BBC and the cultural life of the UK, we feel it is essential that they are represented on the Board of Governors.

We also believe it is important that the BBC review its governance not merely at the senior level, which would benefit from a more transparent selection process, but right through the organisation. It is clear that decisions and responsibilities are not always properly delegated to the correct level in the organisation.

To provide good public services, the BBC needs to operate to the highest editorial standards, but also to take creative risks. This is best achieved by nurturing a culture of professionalism and public service values, through proper editorial and management training, not through corporate control. The aim should be to let trained creatives take decisions, supported by trained, responsible managers and other professionals.

As a trend, the result should be a dynamic creative environment, which produces challenging output, rather than a stultifying corporate environment, which produces bland results.

It is essential that the World Service continues to be well funded for the counterpoint it offers to CNN, Fox News and other commercial newscasters, if nothing else.

Accountability

Accountability is a poorly defined term. The BBC is accountable to the public it listens carefully and responds to public feedback. The BBC must gather and analyse statistics, to report regularly on its activities at strategic level. But this does not mean that the organisation should be run as an accounting exercise.

There is cause for concern that the Corporation has created management superstructures to service levels of accounting, which do not improve accountability or the effectiveness in delivering to its core objectives. The resources that go into this structure would be better spent on creating broadcast product (see publicly funded services and functions).

The BBC should put its trust in people who demonstrate responsible leadership, rather than in systems, which tend to obscure personal responsibility and delegate all responsibility to the corporate level - a scenario that is practically impossible to effectively manage.

Appendix 1:

Affiliated Members of the Creators' Rights Alliance

  • Association of British Science Writers
  • Association of Illustrators
  • Association of Photographers
  • Association of United Recording Artists
  • British Academy of Composers & Songwriters
  • British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies
  • Chartered Institute of Journalists
  • Directors Guild of Great Britain
  • Garden Writers' Guild
  • The Incorporated Society of Musicians
  • The Musicians Union
  • National Union of Journalists
  • Outdoor Writers' Guild
  • PCAM
  • The Society of Authors
  • The Writers' Guild of Great Britain

Note

1 UK Television Content in the Digital Age A report by Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates Limited

Click to close message
Last modified: 24 March 2004

Send design comments to:
web@londonfreelance.org
© 2004 authors
[The Freelance]