Editorial: It's either Ofcom or governors for BBC

After a brief period of humility and introspection following the publication of the Hutton Report, it seems the BBC is back in confrontational form with its thinly veiled warning to Ofcom not to meddle in its internal affairs.

The BBC has taken umbrage at a particular clause in Ofcom's draft broadcasting code that states: "Factual programmes must respect the truth." This seems like a reasonable enough request, but in its reply the Corporation points out that, under the terms of the Communication Act, it is for its own internal board of governors, not Ofcom, to dictate or regulate its programming code.

Up until Hutton, to the average person on the street the regulation of the BBC by a board of governors might have looked like a quaint, if harmless, anachronism. But following the flaws that the inquiry uncovered and with the Corporation's tentacles now spreading into virtually all areas of the multichannel, multimedia world, it also seems deeply unfair to its commercial rivals and potentially detrimental to the public interest.

At the time of the BBC's creation, a board of governors seemed like a sensible way for the Corporation to be regulated. But, much like the BBC using its original remit ("to educate, inform and entertain", as devised by Lord Reith in the 20s) as an excuse to go beyond public service broadcasting and compete with the commercial sector, it looks increasingly incompatible with the modern world.

Confrontation between the BBC and Ofcom now seems inevitable - the regulator has already raised hackles at the Corporation with its recent proposals for the future of public service broadcasting in a digital world that could see the licence fee "top sliced" and distributed to the proposed public service publisher.

There needs to be a serious debate about the future of the BBC's governance.

The Corporation can't have it both ways - either it takes its public service broadcasting requirement seriously and remains under the control of the governors or it competes with its commercial rivals on a level playing field under Ofcom.

Topics