BBC appointments process must be clear and transparent

In restructuring the governance structure of the British Broadcasting Corporation, it is crucial that the government ensures the corporation’s independence and role as a public broadcaster not a state broadcaster.

The government has proposed replacing the current BBC Trust, the current governing body of the BBC, with a unitary board of 12-14 members that would be responsible for ensuring the BBC acts in the public interest. Half of the board members will be appointed by the BBC itself and the other half by a public appointments process, led by the government.

“It is vital that this appointments process is clear, transparent and free from government interference to ensure that the body governing the BBC does not become simply a mouthpiece for the government,” Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said.

Daily Mail backs the BBC Trust

In a move that may have left a few people slightly confused, the Daily Mail has published an editorial in support of the BBC.

The Mail’s traditional antipathy to the BBC notwithstanding (“its monstrous bureaucracy, its unthinking profligacy with licence fees, its manifold editorial misjudgements or its  all-pervading soft-Left bias”), the paper is critical of suggestions that the corporation’s oversight body, the BBC Trust, should have its functions transferred to communications regulator OfCom and the National Audit Office. The Trust has faced criticism as excessive remuneration and severance packages have led to accusations of waste and cronyism.

So why on Earth would the Daily Mail defend this?

For very obvious reasons actually. The Leveson report of 2012 suggested that, should a self-regulatory body established by the press fail to meet the criteria set out by the Lord Justice, OfCom could step in as a “backstop” regulator.

If as the Mail’s editorial suggests in regard to BBC budgeting, “It is simply not safe to entrust such power to a quango answerable to MPs, with their vanity, partisan agendas and propensity to bear grudges.”, then surely the self same proprietors of all that vanity, partisanship and grudgery should not be allowed even the slightest control over the free press.

So what’s the Mail’s solution for the BBC?

Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise a genuinely independent regulator, with the authority to ensure value for money and true impartiality.

We’re not necessarily just talking about the BBC here, are we?

Meanwhile last week David Cameron, resplendent in new reading glasses, told the Commons Liaison Committee he feared an “impasse” in progress on press regulation. While voicing support for a cross-party Royal Charter regulatory proposal rather than the alternative suggested by the majority of the newspapers, Cameron suggested that the leaders of the other main parties, as well as the press, may need to give some leeway in negotiations:

“To be clear I am committed to the cross-party charter. We all signed it, we agreed it. We should progress it but it would be good if we could find some way for everyone to see that it would be better if you ended up with a cross-party charter that the press seek recognition with. But it is a cross-party issue so this is something all party leaders have to address.”

Professor Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off, the group campaigning for the imposition of the Royal Charter, claimed in an article for Huffington Post that the idea of an “impasse” had been planted in the prime minister’s head by newspaper editors, declaring “There is no impasse; there is a process.”

But in which direction we are to proceed may still be up for grabs.

Patten criticises relationship between politicians and News International

Politicians would make better decisions if they were not so influenced by the front pages, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told the Leveson Inquiry today.

Patten said that politicians have allowed themselves to be “kidded” by editors and proprietors that newspapers have more power and sway with the public than they in fact do.

“The question is how seemly it is for politicians to behave in a certain way or appear to be manipulated by papers,” Patten said.

He accused major political parties and their leaders of having “demeaned themselves” by courting the press over the last 25 years, adding that he was not a fan of “grovelling” to the press.

He said he would need a “lot of persuading to organise sleepovers for newspaper proprietors”.

Taking a mischievous dig at Rupert Murdoch, Patten said: “I’d have expected to meet the prime minister and other party leaders more times if I was a News International executive.” He told the Inquiry he had seen culture secretary Jeremy Hunt two or three times, and met David Cameron once.

When asked about his relationship with the media mogul, Patten told the Inquiry he sued publisher HarperCollins after Murdoch — its owner — tried to block the publication of a book Patten had written that was critical of his dealings with the Chinese authorities. Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, said Murdoch had intervened to “curry favour with the Chinese leadership”, fearful that the book would “harm” his prospects in China.

But Patten went on to say he did not have a vendetta against the News International chief, adding that ” it is probably the case that certain papers exist in this country because of him.” He also described Sky News as a “terrific success”.

He also reiterated his view made last November at the Society of Editors that broadcasting regulation could not be applied to the press.

“It would be preferable not to have any statutory backup because we should be able to exercise self-discipline in our plural society,” he said, “which doesn’t involve politicians getting involved in determining matters of free speech.”

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson