MPs slam rules governing BBC Worldwide operations

LONDON - MPs have again criticised rules governing the scope of BBC Worldwide's activities and attacked its "arrogance" over the 2007 purchase of Lonely Planet.

MPs have critised rules governing the scope of BBC Worldwide activities
MPs have critised rules governing the scope of BBC Worldwide activities

A report into the governance and operation of BBC Worldwide by the Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, said the BBC Trust rejects its view that the commercial criteria used by BBC Worldwide to judge its activity should be returned to a pre-2007 position, whereby all commercial activity must have a "clear link with core BBC programming".

The report said: "We do not accept that the present system is more stringent, nor do those commercial parties affected by BBC Worldwide's activities who gave evidence to us."

The report goes on to criticise the BBC Trust's defence of BBC Worldwide's purchase of a 75% stake in Lonely Planet in October 2007. The report said the BBC Trust claims that purchase was made "in an open and transparent way according to the four commercial criteria applicable to BBC Worldwide's activities".

However, the MPs said the purchase remains the "most egregious example of the nature of BBC Worldwide's expansion into areas where the BBC has no, or very limited existing interests. Had the BBC Trust been a more responsible oversight body, it would have given more serious consideration to the likely impact on the commercial sector. We can only speculate as to why it did not."

The MPs also attacked what they claimed was a lack of public disclosure of the financial details of the Lonely Planet purchase. The report said: "The BBC's arrogance demonstrated in as much that it presented in its case to us in this respect, and in the way that it ignored this aspect in its response, is self-defeating in terms of the preservation of its public reputation."

The MPs also disagreed with the BBC Trust regarding the method of assessing whether new BBC Worldwide launches or projects unfairly hinder commercial players and provide value to the BBC.

The BBC Trust rejected the MPs' view that such decisions should be subject to a Public Value Test (PVT) as used for new licence fee-funded services by the BBC.

However, the report said "this misses the point", adding that "there is considerable concern in the commercial sector about BBC Worldwide's activities. Such activities may be funded commercially, but their impact on the businesses and jobs of the commercial sector are real and generating income for the BBC should not be an end in itself. The Trust should welcome the opportunity to impose a tighter regime on these activities and the PVT system is an ideal way to achieve that"."

In response, the BBC Trust said: "BBC Worldwide operates within a framework set by the Charter and Agreement. It has no access to licence-fee funding and operates at arm's length from the BBC's public services. 

"The Trust oversees BBC Worldwide's strategy and controls. We are committed to ensuring licence fee-payers get a good return on their investment, while being mindful of the BBC's impact on the wider market. To this end, the Trust has been carrying out its own review of the BBC's commercial services."