Saturday, 18 October 2008



SPEACH BY SIR MICHAEL LYONS, CHAIRMAN OF THE BBC TRUST important speach about the future plans covering the BBC and other channels being one day public owned is one of the better ideas in recent years which may one day come to fruition.
Part of the speach reads;

So, you want to know what’s my initial view on Ofcom’s Phase II document and the path it charts?

I think there’s much in the report to praise. Ofcom is making a brave attempt to air some difficult issues that many might prefer not to have to address. But overall, I think the document demonstrates there are questions still to ask and there is much more to be done to encourage ambition amongst the broadcasters themselves.

Let me be clear. I recognise the commercial PSBs are facing real financial pressures – along with many other businesses. But their immediate challenges should not be all which determines the future of broadcasting in this country. Hasty moves to dismantle structures which have taken decades to mature in return for a quick financial gain might look tempting at first glance, but they have a habit of coming back with a bite. Just ask those banks which used to be mutual building societies.

I am pleased that Ofcom now acknowledges ITV’s heritage and value as a regional broadcaster. But I am sceptical about any suggestion that Channel 4 can suddenly take its place either in terms of its structure or in the public’s hearts. Indeed, I question the scale of expectations being placed on Channel 4 full-stop.

We should all be concerned to safeguard that which makes Channel 4 special – not keep egging it on to do more. I think its move last week to withdraw from DAB was very difficult and disappointing for them and the future of digital radio, but it showed responsibility by their board.

I question the thinking behind a proposal to gift BBC Worldwide to Channel 4. Put aside for a moment whether this is actually legal, State Aid issues, and the merits of removing £100m a year of dividends back to the public via new BBC programmes. In what way might this make business sense for BBC Worldwide or Channel 4? I can see there could be some commercial deals that Channel 4 and Worldwide could do to the benefit of both, but Worldwide primarily exists to exploit the secondary rights of BBC public service programmes, not Channel 4. And besides, WW belongs to licence fee payers not Ofcom and not the government either.

I do worry that Ofcom has misunderstood the public’s view of the licence fee. I’ve said before that my experience of the public’s attitude to compulsory levies underlines two things: people don’t much like to pay, but when they have to, they want to know what it’s for and who’s responsible for doing the spending.

Ofcom’s own research shows that 87% of people recognise that the licence fee pays for the BBC in some form. Believe me, I know that is a very high recognition rate – and is a reason why the public has such high expectations from the BBC.
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