The BBC’s political independence has been gradually eroded, according to the corporation’s director general. In a speech to business leaders on Monday, Tony Hall will urge changes to the way the broadcaster is regulated.He wants licence fee payers to have a greater say than politicians.Lord Hall says there has been a “major change” over the past 20 years which has made the foundations of the BBC’s independence “weaker”. The government has yet to comment.”When I was working in news and current affairs in the ’90s, the independence of the BBC was protected by a set of quiet customs and traditions,” he will say.”Back then it was Willie Whitelaw who’d provided us with the certainty of a 15-year Charter, underpinning our independence by allowing us stability through the political cycle.”When I returned to the BBC as director general, I was struck by a major change. The foundations of the BBC’s independence had become weaker. The traditions and informal arrangements which protected it had been eroded.”
Behind closed doors.He cites the decision to fund government programmes such as digital switchover, rural broadband and local TV as examples of how the licence fee should not have been used.He also suggests recent licence fee settlements have been decided behind closed doors without a “full process”.Future licence fee negotiations should, he says, be made with the input of licence fee payers possibly by an online vote.
The speech to the Cardiff Business Club comes in the midst of negotiations for the corporation’s next 10-year charter. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is reviewing the size and scope of the BBC and what sort of programming the corporation should provide. One key part of the process is deciding who should oversee and regulate the corporation.The current system, a BBC Trust, is both a watchdog and also the decision-making body controlling the size and strategy of the corporation.Lord Hall, echoing the current BBC chairman, Rona Fairhead, says the roles should be split and the BBC should for the first time have an external regulator.