Recipe for BBC confusion
AT LAST the government has published its White Paper setting out its plans for the BBC - to a chorus or relief, given that few of the kites that had been flown to scare the multitude stayed aloft. The licence fee - the worst possible way of funding a public broadcaster, except all the other ways - remains.
Positively for local news reporting, there is support for proposals for a "News Bank" syndicating "content" for local and regional news organisations; a "Data Journalism Hub" in partnership with a university; and "Local Public Sector Reporting Service" to report on local institutions [p 74]. The Freelance presumes that all these will lead to paid work for journalists.
The news isn't so good for authors and performers other than journalists, though. The government plans to "open to full competition the £740 million the BBC spends each year on in-house television content production (with the exception of news and news-related current affairs)" [p 77]. That would mean that all non-news production was privatised - with the BBC establishing a "Studios" company to bid against the Endemols of this world. That in turn means that collectively-bargained agreements and commissioning practices that are less awful than in the rest of the industry are under threat.
And, buried fairly deep in the 136-page document, are some worrying vaguenesses about the rules under which the BBC will operate. It would be "regulated" by OFCOM, the Office of Communications. We read that "The government will provide guidance to the regulator on content requirements and performance metrics to set clear policy parameters..." [p 55].
The above suggets to a suspicious mind that that U-turn on the idea of demanding control over what the BBC shows and when is more of a C-turn: it can come back later, by stealth. This suspicion is reinforced by several statement resembling this: OFCOM will be responsibke for "holding the BBC to account with particular regard to market impact and protecting the legitimate interests of third parties" [p 57]. It would have the power to fine the BBC (though the question of where the fines would go is fudged). Given that last time we had much to do with OFCOM it was riddled with enthusiastic free-market fundamentalists, this leaves a lot of slack for those kites coming home to roost.
OFCOM will also be handling complaints not resolved by the BBC [p 56, p 60].
The White Paper proposes "opening up the BBC archive" - which rings alarm bells for performers, scriptwriters and all other contributors who have not signed over rights in their work beyond its first broadcast. The document does goon to observe that "Of course there are limits to what can be achieved cost-effectively, as securing rights for that content can be complex, time-consuming and therefore costly." [p 73] We will have to keep a close eye on this.