Caroline Thomson: Profit will never be put before programme integrity

Chief Operating Officer

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There have been some stories in the papers in the last few days that have suggested that the BBC is embarking on a new strategy in which we are asking programme makers to 'commercialise' some of our news and current affairs programming with a view to making money.

It has been said that staff are being asked to exploit commercial opportunities at the expense of focussing on the programmes themselves. Questions are being raised about whether profit is being put before programme integrity. Surely, the critics say, that's not what the BBC and its staff are there to do? The answer to this is of course an emphatic no.

The BBC exists, as it always has, to make programmes that audiences love - "to inform, educate, entertain and make a profit" is certainly not the new mantra for all our programme makers.

But it has long been the case in UK public service programme making that we have benefited from revenue generated by the commercial sale of CDs, DVDs, books and other activity linked to programmes which have helped to supplement programme budgets.

The History Of The World in 100 Objects books and CBeebies Live events are just two examples of activity that have delivered profits to the BBC that have in turn gone back into programme budgets. These are the kinds of ideas we look for - ideas that complement not compromise or change the shape of our programmes.

BBC News, whether it's domestic TV, radio or online, is of course funded by the Licence Fee and is not subject to any commercial pressures. It's a different story with BBC World News, the live TV news channel broadcast outside the UK, which is a commercial operation funded through advertising and distribution deals. And it is in this commercial area that we can always use as many good ideas as possible to help generate additional income that can be invested back into the network.

It is also worth saying that any ideas we do come up with have to undergo the intense scrutiny of our editorial guidelines and the sharp eye of the BBC Trust whose role in part is to ensure that the BBC is not compromising its position in any way. Editorial integrity remains, as it always has, the unassailable core of what we do and we undermine that at our peril.

I am also happy to reassure NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet that we would never consider introducing profit targets for programme makers across the BBC. So yes we will always seek to find appropriate ways in which we can raise commercial revenue that will support licence fee funding for our programmes but never at the expense of the core programme values. And so I am afraid we are unlikely to be seeing a range of Paxman dolls anytime soon.

Caroline Thomson is Chief Operating Officer

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