BBC White Paper reforms draw mixed reaction

Announced in the House of Commons yesterday (12 May), the UK Government Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s plans to reform the BBC have met with a mixed response – although in some quarters there is a sense of relief that they do not call for as many drastic changes as had been feared at several points during the last 18 months.

The UK public service broadcaster has already been required to undertake substantial money-saving measures, including the transition of BBC Three to an online-only channel and a reduction in the quantity of sports and online news production. But now even more substantial change is on the way as the result of a White Paper that runs to over 100 pages and can be read in full here (

iPlayer loophole and archive plans

Although the licence fee that funds BBC services will continue for at least 11 years – and will be linked to inflation – the broadcaster will henceforth: name employees and freelancers who earn more than £450,000 (albeit in ‘broad bands’ only); close the ‘iPlayer loophole’, meaning that people watching BBC programmes on-demand must have a valid TV licence; have the opportunity to explore whether to make any of its content available on a subscription-only basis; be regulated by Ofcom – with the Government to provide “guidance” on “content requirements”; see its external BBC Trust and internal BBC Executive be replaced by a new ‘unitary board’; and give “greater focus to underserved audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and from the nations and regions which are currently less well served.”

The organisation has also been called upon to do more to share its archives – a move that must surely have implications for BBC Sport.

Whilst Whittingdale’s oft-repeated call for the BBC to prioritise “distinctive” programming receives a comprehensive airing in the White Paper – variations of the term occur no fewer than 50 times – the consensus view is that the document is less radical than expected during a protracted 18-month public debate that saw extensive input from commentators concerned about what they felt was the imminent demise of the much-loved broadcaster.

‘Stability and certainty’

The Digital TV Group (DTG) was among the organisations to remark positively on the White Paper, claiming that the charter would offer “stability for the industry and certainty for the consumer” – not least with regard to the future roadmap of major new technologies such as 4K/UHD.

“The DTG has [been] pioneering industry collaboration in Ultra High Definition (UHD) with the UK UHD Forum, and we note the White Paper’s recognition of the role the BBC has played with partners, such as the DTG, in the development of such standards,” said the DTG in a statement.

But a number of leading figures in the creative community were less encouraged, with the new unitary board – for which the Government is expected to appoint up to six members – prompting particular concern. Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky – who made an impassioned defence of the corporation at last week’s BAFTA awards ceremony – told The Guardian (12 May) that such plans were “anathema”. He added: “I am not reassured at all. Once we start to have that number of people on the editorial board put there by the government you can kiss goodbye to the BBC’s reputation for independence.”

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