MPs quiz Hall on Production plans

Tony Hall speaking to culture, media and sport committee Tony Hall says there's 'a lot to recommend' current system of governance

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Tony Hall told MPs that he would consider over the coming months whether BBC Production should become part of BBC Worldwide.

The director general was quizzed by the culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday about the future of in-house production, following his announcement last week that he wanted to scrap production quotas and create 'a level playing field for ideas'.

But while he sought to invite more competition from independents for commissions, he also described BBC Production as a 'huge asset'.

'I couldn't envisage it being privatised,' he insisted. 'It would be absurd when the BBC's reputation as a programme maker is one of the great glories of the BBC.'

Director of tv Danny Cohen - who joined Hall, director of strategy and digital James Purnell and non-executive director Fiona Reynolds before the committee, as it continued its inquiry into the future of the BBC - said that intellectual property rights was another key area of discussion.

He told MPs that the corporation wanted to work with indie trade association PACT to draw up new terms of trade between the BBC and independent producers, relating to their size and scale.

'The current ways in which things operate, based on the current consolidation in the industry, are not fair for everyone,' Cohen said. 'We now want to have a very detailed conversation with small and medium-sized indies.'

'Racist' diversity plans

The director general's diversity plans were also called into question by the MPs, with one calling them 'racist'.

Hall said his strategy - which includes targeted development programmes and training funds - was not about giving jobs to people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds over others, but was rooted in 'a profound belief in the BBC standing for equal opportunities for all people'.

Fiona Reynolds, Tony Hall, James Purnell and Danny Cohen speak to MPs Fiona Reynolds, Tony Hall, James Purnell and Danny Cohen speak to MPs

He said the BBC's Stephen Lawrence training scheme and others like it were as much about social mobility, while his drive to increase the number of apprentices at the BBC aimed to open the door to people who 'don't think media is for them'.

'The theme here is not racism,' Hall insisted. 'It's equality of opportunity.'

But how did 'appointing your mates' square with this 'passion' for diversity? one committee member asked.

Couldn't somebody from a black or minority ethnic background have applied to be director of strategy and digital - a role to which James Purnell was directly appointed by the DG?

Hall reiterated that 'just occasionally', he had to 'appoint people rapidly to fill gaps', but that he generally favoured a more even-handed approach.

System not 'bust'

The panel was asked for its views on the BBC's governance.

Hall refused to rise to MP Ben Bradshaw's call to admit the current system was 'bust', arguing rather that there was 'a lot to recommend' it.

He said the executive was held to account, first by the non-executive directors and then by its reporting to the BBC Trust, with which it now shared more information about BBC performance.

He said it was 'a big job' to regulate £3.6bn of public money as part of a 'very complex' organisation, stressing that governance needed to be 'pretty robust and pretty specialised'.

So was he ruling out Ofcom as a future regulator?

Hall deferred that decision to Parliament, but cautioned: 'Whoever does it needs to spend a lot of time doing it.'

He was less circumspect in relation to the licence fee, deeming it the best way of funding the BBC.

The 40 pence a day charge had helped create 'a broadcasting ecology that I think is the envy of the world', he argued, while pointing out that it did need to be updated to include catch-up tv.

Purnell, meanwhile, rejected the idea of a BBC premium service, where you pay a subscription for services like BBC Three and Four, online or iPlayer.

'How do you decide which services should be in the top-up?' he questioned, adding that it would be hard to raise enough money to fund such services.

He reckoned 'far more people would lose than win' from such a development.

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