Tory plans to bring BBC into line could silence Quiet Man

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 26 February 2004 08:00AM

Poor old Iain Duncan Smith. Just as he had managed to muster a marginally bigger audience for his cameo slot on the obscure BBC Three show 'Live at Johnny's' than came to watch him on stage in Liverpool, a piece of research commissioned by the Conservatives threatens to scupper his fledgling TV career, Writes Jeremy Lee.

Under proposals led by a panel of broadcast experts headed by Five's former chief executive, David Elstein, and commissioned by Duncan Smith when he was the leader of the Tories, the BBC would undergo some serious surgery. Some of it sounds fanciful, but there is a rationale in a great deal of what Elstein's group has to say. Given the shortcomings exposed in the Hutton report, few would argue with the proposal to abolish the BBC's archaic governance system.

While the idea of a board of governors having the roles both of manager and regulator may have looked acceptable in a Victorian workhouse (or, indeed, in the more patrician era in which the BBC's Royal Charter was first granted), it looks dichotomous now.

Even before Hutton, there were calls for the BBC to fall into line with the other broadcasters and come under the jurisdiction of Ofcom. Elstein's proposal is that the BBC should be run on lines akin to Channel 4, with a board of executive and non-executive directors answerable to the regulator.

Also, with its various incursions into the commercial world, the BBC has become a serious threat to the free markets of commercial media (no matter how many puny attempts it has made to flash its public service knickers in the run-up to Charter review).

Under Greg Dyke, the BBC had grown out of control and got involved in areas where it had no business. This isn't just a matter of the multitude of execrable digital TV and radio launches or the blatantly competitive scheduling on the two terrestrial channels, although these are indicative of the problem.

The number of magazine launches and the expansion of online services has put the BBC at a grossly advantageous position compared with its commercial rivals. It seems sensible that these should be divested, along with the BBC's production facilities.

The thing about the BBC that really sticks in the throat, though, is the statutory tax that is levied purely for the privilege for being able to watch the channels. While one old granny from Devon makes the headlines for refusing to pay her council tax, what would happen if, en masse, we all decided not to pay our TV licence fee?

With more than half of UK homes now able to receive digital TV, making the BBC's offerings subscription-based is not inconceivable.

Which begs the question, with or without Duncan Smith, who's going to bother subscribing to BBC Three?

If you have an opinion on this or any other issue raised on Brand Republic, join the debate in the Forum here.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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