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Mark Byford

Speeches

Mark Byford

Acting Director-General


Speech to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer Spring Conference 2004


Thursday 29 April 2004
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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 and news


- 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 shared celebrations.

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 online services.

 

And, of course, people expect the BBC to uphold the highest standards of accuracy and independence in our news and current affairs.

 

The BBC had to fight for that independence in its early days.

 

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 interest.

 

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 ahead.

 

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 Radio 3.

 

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 Live.

 

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 existence.

 

Rather it's about understanding how the world is changing and finding new ways we can contribute to life in Britain and around the world.

 

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 area.

 

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 that matter.

 

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 debate.

 

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 which include:


- 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 the future.

 

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 surfacing.

 

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 the debate.

 

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 BBC.

 

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 in Britain.

 

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.

 

Thank you.



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