Speech to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Spring Conference 2004
Thursday 29 April 2004
This is a critical time for public service broadcasting.
The new regulatory regime of Ofcom, the BBC's Charter
Review and events such as this conference are placing PSB centre stage,
somewhere I believe it belongs.
The BBC certainly spent the beginning of the year very
much in the spotlight and last week's research and report from Ofcom
has provided much food for thought for the whole sector.
Inevitably at such times, we tend to focus on where
we need to do better. The headlines which greeted
Ofcom's report were proof of that.
But we shouldn't forget that British public service
broadcasting is a real success story.
It remains admired around the world and is something
we should celebrate and take pride in.
Today the BBC is adding more grist to the mill with
the publication of our latest Statements of Programme Policy, our annual
pledge to audiences about what each of our services will deliver over
the coming year.
So there's plenty to talk about. I must thank Jocelyn
and the VLV for adding greatly to the debate as a voice for our audiences
and also by hosting events such as this conference.
Of course, debate about public service broadcasting
is nothing new. It's formed the backdrop to broadcasting in this country
virtually since broadcasting was invented.
This is because we've a history in Britain of valuing
television and radio services as more than just commercial enterprises.
The BBC, for its part, has always played an essential
role in delivering a full range of what broadcasting has to offer.
But the BBC remains only part of the mix. The strength
of broadcasting in this country was born of public and commercial broadcasting
in co-existence, keeping each other honest and on our toes.
We've all added in our different ways to the social,
democratic and cultural health of the nation.
And despite everything that's changed in the last decade
or so, that still remains the case.
ITV, Channel 4 and now Five still help make the BBC
a better and more distinctive public service broadcaster.
The BBC, for its part, sets an industry benchmark that
wouldn't exist in a purely commercial market.
And as we come to consider the decade ahead, getting
this interplay right between the commercial and public spheres of broadcasting
will become more rather than less important.
Competition will intensify the pressures on quality
and range in the commercial sector while the proliferation of services
will demand new things of the BBC.
What better time then to clarify our thinking about
public service broadcasting and its importance.
What's remarkable is that in spite of having what's
widely considered the ultimate model of PSB - one emulated around the
world - we've often struggled to pin down a definition.
Reith's inform, educate and entertain remains a wonderfully
pure vision of the purpose but has sometimes left us grasping for a
more specific measure of PSB in the modern age.
This certainly won't get any easier as broadcasting
evolves, and with it our ideas about how it can serve us as individuals
and as a society.
In this fast changing world we mustn't attempt to lock
our ideas about PSB in the past. We must be willing to let them grow
and adapt to the world in which they live.
So I welcome Ofcom's review of public service television
published last week.
I particularly welcome the fact that we've been presented
with a broad rather than narrow vision of PSB
- one in which the public's views take precedence
- one in which soaps and sport are valued alongside history, science
- one which competition for quality in the provision of PSB remains
at the heart of the system.
I was also glad to see an emphasis on broadcasting which
serves people as citizens as well as consumers
- programmes which keep us informed about events and ideas
- programmes which reflect Britain's cultural life and identity
- programmes which stretch and stimulate our interests in the arts,
science and history
- and programmes which help foster a tolerant, inclusive society, which
celebrate our cultural diversity but which also bring us together for
For the BBC as Britain's lead PSB, audiences have a right to expect
more of these values in more of our programmes than may be the case
for commercial broadcasters.
I believe our Statements of Programme Policy published
today show us listening and responding to those public expectations
of the BBC.
They expect us to be creative, distinctive, ambitious,
innovative and original, which is why we've been reducing the level
of lifestyle programmes in peak time and building our commitment to
arts and current affairs.
Later this year we'll continue this transition with
the launch of The Culture Show on BBC TWO and an extra ten hours of
current affairs on BBC ONE.
Our audiences expect us to champion new talent.
You can see this coming to the fore in our new services
such as BBC THREE and shows like Little Britain as well as in existing
services like Radio 1, which announces today a commitment that more
than 40% of its mainstream output will be new music (which means unreleased
or less than one month since release).
They expect that the BBC will reflect the whole UK,
something we will continue to do through network drama made outside
London whether it's Monarch of the Glen from BBC Scotland or the new
series of Doctor Who being made by BBC Wales.
At the same time we'll continue to get closer to local
communities by investing in our regional television, local radio and
And, of course, people expect the BBC to uphold the
highest standards of accuracy and independence in our news and current
The BBC had to fight for that independence in its early
Politicians of every persuasion from Winston Churchill
onwards have occasionally sought to compromise that independence, particularly
at times of national crisis.
But the BBC has stood firm.
So the principle of an independent BBC runs deep within
the organisation and among our audiences.
It's for this reason that the Hutton report into the
death of Dr David Kelly and subsequent events have been the subject
of so much debate and comment.
I don't want to use today to re-open that whole affair.
But I do want to reassure those who care about the BBC
that none of the events before or after publication of the report have
in any way compromised the independence of the BBC.
The BBC is alone among broadcasters in the UK in being
effectively owned by the public.
That ownership creates expectations. It creates a public
expectation that we'll provide the kinds of programming I talked about
earlier but also that we'll be someone they can trust.
I'm not claiming that the BBC is more honest than other
broadcasters - we're fortunate in the UK to have a range of public and
commercial news providers who all place enormous store on accuracy,
integrity and impartiality.
But the relationship between the BBC and the public
is a special one.
It stems from the fact that we are a broadcaster paid
for directly by the public and devoted solely to serving the public
It's this which has underpinned our funding, governance
and ethos for 80 years.
It's this which still makes us the most trusted supplier
of news and the place people turn at times of crisis.
There were some who felt that by apologising for mistakes
we made in that 6.07 report on the Today programme, we were somehow
compromising that independence.
As someone who had overall responsibility for our reporting
in Northern Ireland in the 1990s on the long road to the Good Friday
Agreement and around the world during Kosovo and the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq, I know the meaning of independent journalism.
I'll defend that independence to the hilt.
But I won't use that as an excuse to sweep mistakes
under the carpet or to duck our responsibility to clarify or correct
stories when necessary.
To do so would be to undermine the values which form
the foundation for our journalism.
That, in my book, would be a betrayal of the trust our
audiences place in us and would merely serve to weaken our independence
rather than strengthen it.
So alongside our pledge to maintain the highest standards
of accuracy, fairness and impartiality in today's Statements of Programme
Policy, we make a clear commitment to learn the lessons of the Hutton
report - something I can promise you we'll do.
Maintaining all these qualities in the BBC will
be vital as the commercial pressures in broadcasting mount in the years
We have a duty to provide an alternative view of what
broadcasting and the internet have to offer people as consumers but
also as citizens.
But we will need something else if public service broadcasting
is to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.
We will need to be clear, not just about what public
service broadcasting is, but also why it matters and why we should value
it, both as individuals and as a society.
Too often in the past we've allowed PSB to be defined
by market failure. It's value was measured in terms of what others would
not or could not do.
Charter Review is an opportunity to rethink this approach,
to consider what's possible from PSB on its own terms.
That's why the BBC will use this Charter Review to propose
a new measure of the positive impact that public service broadcasting
can have on society and on people's lives.
This measure is something we're calling Public Value.
Consolidation and competition in commercial broadcasting
increasingly measure the private value of broadcasting:
- its value to the individual
- to advertisers
- to shareholders.
Our role must be to focus with equal energy on maximising the public
value from broadcasting - something everyone can share in.
We intend to publish full details of our thinking in
this area in June but I'd like to take this opportunity to provide you
with a foretaste of what we'll be talking about.
First I should emphasise that public value, just like
public service broadcasting, is not the sole preserve of the BBC.
Nor is it something unique to broadcasting. You find
public value in all our public services, in our schools and hospitals.
What these and other public services share in common
is an ability to benefit both the individual and wider society.
For instance, we value the NHS for its ability to treat
individuals but also for playing its part in creating a society of fit
and healthy citizens through health education and preventative medicine.
In just the same way, the BBC can enrich the lives of
individuals but can also contribute significantly to society as a whole.
So we can keep individuals informed about events shaping
their life and the lives of others, helping them make sense of the world.
But we can also contribute to a healthy democracy by
fostering debate among all audiences.
We can use the enormous power of television, radio and
now the internet to create opportunities for people to learn.
We've seen huge demand for the spin-off learning opportunities
we've created alongside landmark factual programmes such as David Attenborough's
Blue Planet and Life of Mammals.
But we see a wider social value in our ability to encourage
lifelong learning whether by providing adult literacy and numeracy courses
or in our partnerships with the Open University which last year alone
saw 156,000 people enrolled on courses.
And we can have a cultural value in people's lives through
drama, comedy and music such as The Canterbury Tales, Dead Ringers and
But through our commitment to British production we
can invest in the cultural life of the UK.
We can create programmes which reflect our society past
and present and stage mass cultural events like The Proms and Music
This approach to informing, educating and entertaining
our audiences remains a core purpose.
But we must recognise that as broadcasting and society
change so must we.
In the future we must be willing to build public value
in new ways.
This isn't about reinventing the wheel to justify our
Rather it's about understanding how the world is changing
and finding new ways we can contribute to life in Britain and around
This will mean championing everyone's right to share
in what digital media has to offer and making sure no one gets left
behind as we make the transition to a digital society.
Initiatives like Freeview started this process but
we're still only half way along the road to a digital Britain.
New ways to go digital and help for those who are less
confident with new technologies will form our major challenges in this
It will also mean supporting democracy by becoming an
antidote to political disengagement and apathy.
In an era which has seen a proliferation of news sources
but increasing focus on trivia and celebrity, we will strengthen our
commitment to eye witness reporting and to serious analysis of the issues
At the same time we'll search for new ways to engage
people in the issues that affect their lives and create new forums for
We must also fulfil our vision of becoming the world's
most creative organisation, investing more of the licence fee into UK
production and creating a new generation of memorable programmes for
a new generation of audiences.
We also want to play an even greater role in local and
national life in Britain.
In an era of fragmentation, we can be the glue which
brings people together, both as members of their local community but
also as citizens of this country.
At the same time we want to use the reach and reputation
of our international services, including the World Service, to build
bridges between different cultures.
And we intend to fulfil our potential to drive a revolution
in learning, using the reach and interactivity at our disposal to provide
more people with more opportunities.
We've a number of exciting initiatives in this area
- launching our Digital Curriculum service - a free online resource
for every school age child
- building on the enormous success of our preschool channel CBeebies
- we are opening up the BBC's wonderful archive of programmes via the
internet, with the first stage of the process planned for this autumn
- and we will of course invest our income and creative energy making
the kind of factual programming that both inform and entertain our audiences.
As I said, this is just a taste of what's to come in
June when we publish full details of our vision for the BBC's role in
Finally, let me emphasise that I'm a realist.
I know as well as offering an opportunity to highlight
the strengths of the BBC, Charter Review is will also see criticisms
But this is no time for those of use who believe in
public service broadcasting to be in defensive mood.
In fact, as the modern market matures, with further
fragmentation and reduced commercial investment, the case for PSB becomes
stronger rather than weaker.
The BBC will always have its critics. There will always
be those, particularly among our commercial rivals, who believe weakening
us will make them stronger.
Let's not allow those voices and those views to dominate
We've a golden opportunity to build a new consensus
about the value of public service broadcasting for the digital age and
a chance to imagine what's possible from a strong, independent, creative
I want us to seize this opportunity to emphasise the
importance of the BBC in the digital age, its continuing role at the
heart of national life, its impact in making life better for everyone
Now is the time to voice support for a strong independent
BBC, clear in its public purposes.
The Voice of the Listener and Viewer knows all about
public value. They represent the public.
We must never forget the BBC is owned by the people
of Britain; we serve them alone and are accountable only to them.