Speech given at the Westminster Media Forum
Speech in full -
please check against delivery
gathered at this meeting today to discuss how the broadcasting industry
can serve the public interest in the digital future. I want to comment
on the BBCs role in that future - a role which I believe will
remain absolutely central to UK broadcasting for many decades to come.
Our mixed broadcasting ecology, with public and private sectors both
playing large, complementary roles, can serve Britain just as well in
the future digital age as it did in the analogue age which is now ending.
start by commenting on the line-up of services which the BBC will need
to play its central role in our digital future. Then I will comment
on how the governance of the BBC needs to be modernised to dove-tail
with the rest of the UKs new regulatory regime after the creation
of Ofcom. And finally I shall comment on three specific tasks that the
Governors will face in the new age to ensure fair trading by
the BBC, to prevent the the BBC from dumbing down, and to prevent quality
programmes from being shuffled away from BBC ONE and TWO and towards
minority digital channels.
became Chairman of the BBC last October, I inherited an organisation
which in many ways was in rude good health. If you were to base your
view of the BBC on the ritual abuse we receive in parts of the press,
you might conclude that we are doing everything wrong. But the public
does not agree. In terms of audience figures, whether measured by reach
or share, our performance has been strong, across all of our services.
· BBC Radio took a 53% share of the total radio audience, well
up on previous years. (Reach 62%)
· Our online service BBCi - increased its reach to almost
six million users, up from just over four million a year earlier.
· The World Service attained a new high of 153 million regular
· BBC TWO remains the only one of the traditional television
services which is retaining its audience in the face of multi-channel
· Its astonishing to think that 35 million people in the
UK turned to the BBCs radio and television news services on September
11th. Even today in this world of media proliferation, its still
true to say that the important things we all share, we share through
· And of course, famously, last year BBC ONE beat ITV in audience
share for the very first time ever. Even when ITV was off the air owing
to a strike for 12 weeks in the late 1980s, they still beat us!
I am sure
that many of you are thinking that is all very well, but the
BBC should not be all about ratings. Of course it should not be. Distinctiveness
and near universal reach are both critical objectives for us. But I
do want the BBC to remain, in the digital age, a mass market public
service broadcaster, not one which is confined to a tiny corner of the
market, like the PSBs in the United States.
to truly serve the public, and justify the licence fee, we must first
make sure that the public consumes our services in huge numbers. We
simply cannot deliver value for money, or attain near universal reach,
if we only serve minority tastes. I know that is highly inconvenient
for some of our competitors, who would like nothing better than to box
us into an ever-diminishing space, but it is a fact.
So we must
continue to serve mass audiences in the digital age. In the last month
alone, we have launched five new digital services Radio 5 Live
Sports Extra, 6 Music, CBeebies and CBBC for children, and BBC FOUR.
I have no doubt that some of these new services will take time to win
mass audiences, but that eventually they will do so.
first launched BBC TWO in 1964, the initial audiences were so small
that they failed to register on the statistical charts. It was the same
when FM radio started in the early sixties. So I am not concerned about
the criticism we received last week about the audiences for BBC FOUR.
Give the new service a chance it has already won a lot of critical
acclaim, and I am confident that large audiences will follow.
into new services is now almost complete. We will not have a tank on
every lawn, but we will have a presence in most of the areas which are
needed to offer full public service coverage to the nation. Our portfolio
of TV and radio channels, and the development of our online services,
was largely planned in the late 1990s by John Birt, Christopher Bland
and their respective boards. Greg and I are fortunate that they thought
deeply about the right structure for the BBC, and were able to persuade
the Government to accept that structure, and to fund it appropriately.
This is hugely in the public interest.
there is one very important loose end. We would like to get permission
from the Secretary of State to launch BBC Three, a new public service
channel for young adults. We see this as vital in three respects.
First, this group of the population has become increasingly detached
from public service genres, especially news and current affairs. It
will be hard to win them back and extremely hard without the
new approaches we plan on BBC Three.
· Second, we have lost reach among young adults. In order to
ensure universal reach for the BBC - an objective which everyone says
we must fulfil - we badly need a service like BBC Three.
· Third, we believe that we need a full portfolio of channels
to enable us to market our digital plan to the 60% of the nation which
has so far been unattracted to digital television on subscription. Without
BBC Three, our digital proposition looks that much less compelling,
and analogue switch-off looks that much further off. And a flourishing
future for DTT something which is greatly in the interests of
both the BBC and the nation - would be that much more difficult.
past couple of weeks, our competitors have suggested that BBC Three
would cost them £25 million a year in lost revenue. Our own estimates,
based on independent research by Oliver and Ohlbaum, suggests that any
loss would be only a tiny fraction of this figure, perhaps about £4
million. And remember, to set against this, the channel intends to invest
about £80 million per annum in UK production of new programmes.
the BBC recognises that times are tough in the advertising market. But
every month that passes without getting permission to launch BBC Three
is another month in which we cannot spend that £80 million on
just say to our competitors that it is obvious to most fair minded people
what is motivating them when they complain about the BBC. Many of their
complaints are based on understandable self interest - the kind of self
interest which I would expect if I were one of their share-holders.
that our competitors have started to complain rather loudly that the
licence fee offers stable funding for the BBC, at a time when advertising
and subscription revenues have been going through a sticky patch. Funnily
enough, we did not hear so much about relative income growth during
the 1990s, when private sector revenues were surging relative to the
licence fee. The recent past has seen only a small redressing of the
balance. It is surely far-fetched to blame the BBC for some of the problems
which private sector broadcasters have recently encountered. The Board
of Governors might be responsible for many things, but the short term
financial performance of commercial broadcasters is not prime amongst
But I get
more concerned when complaints come from friends of the BBC - from people
who are genuinely sympathetic to our aims as a public service broadcaster.
I am concerned that the BBC is sometimes seen as aloof, arrogant and
inaccessible. I am worried when the BBCs friends say that they
are confused and troubled about the way the organisation is governed.
is why we have now decided to modernise the way the BBC is governed.
argued that the BBC should come under the proposed new media super-regulator,
Ofcom. Surprisingly enough, I tend to agree - so it should, in many
respects. There is a strong case for a level playing field in the regulation
effect of the Governments latest plans has been widely misunderstood
in the public debate. Actually much of the BBCs activity will
in fact fall fully within Ofcoms remit - key issues such as economic
regulation, and basic content standards and quotas for independent and
regional production. In these areas, the BBC will be treated just like
the public service remit of the BBC and other broadcasters. Here, a
level playing field will be established not by altering the position
of the BBC, but by shifting the position of ITV (and others) decisively
towards the BBCs current arrangements.
both the BBC and private broadcasters will be primarily subject to self-regulation
in this crucial final category. The only difference is that back-stop
powers will rest with Ofcom for the private broadcasters, while they
will rest with the Secretary of State for the BBC.
that this difference is justified. A "light touch", largely
commercial, regulator like Ofcom is suited to wield back-stop powers
over the relatively limited public service remit of private broadcasters.
the case of the all-encompassing public service remit of the BBC, a
"light touch" regulator is hardly sufficient. Detailed regulation
by a Board of Governors is necessary. And it is surely also sensible
that the ultimate back-stop powers for a publicly-owned and publicly-funded
organisation should rest in the democratic process, subject to frequent
and direct Parliamentary scrutiny.
the Governors have decided that a package of internal reforms is required,
to ensure that BBC governance can indeed address some of the concerns
mentioned earlier. These reforms are intended to achieve four key objectives:
First, to ensure that the key distinction between the role of the Governors
and that of the Executive is clearly understood inside and outside the
organisation. For the first time, we are publishing a clear statement
of the very different roles which the two boards fulfil to achieve their
common public service purpose.
· Second, to ensure that the Governors exercise their authority
in a way which is compatible with the new role of Ofcom. This requires
Governors to focus their attention on the BBCs public service
remit more than ever before. A new framework for setting objectives
for the organisation, and for monitoring these objectives, will be needed
to achieve this.
· Third, to ensure that the BBCs governance is a model
of openness and accessibility. This will require an overhaul of the
way in which we explain the aims of our services to the public, and
then consult them about whether these aims are appropriate, and whether
they have been met.
· Fourth, to ensure that the Governors are properly supported
to fulfil their responsibilities. This will require the creation of
a new Governance and Accountability Office to replace the Secretarys
Office, thus providing the Governors with more independent sources of
advice and support on compliance, objective-setting and accountability.
read some of the press comment about this final point, you would have
been forgiven for thinking that we were creating a group of political
aparatchics across the BBC. One paper even suggested that I was eager
to dilute the power of the Governors by surrounding them with a bunch
of political cronies bent on taking over BBC News!
course is just total garbage and is an intentional distortion
of everything that the Governors are trying to do. Our sole objective
is to strengthen the role of the Governors, their operation and their
independence by providing the specialist professional skills and resources
they need to do their jobs.
we advertised for the post of Head of this new Objectives and Compliance
team. Look at the advert and the job description and youll see
for yourself that this is more like a lawyers job than that of
a political special adviser.
And let me spell it out in language that the headline writers in the
popular press will understand: Jo Moore need not apply.
that these reforms will help to persuade Parliament that the public
service remit of the BBC is in safe hands. And now let me comment on
three specific areas where the Governors need to remain particularly
fair trading. We frequently hear allegations from our competitors that
the BBC is trading unfairly against them. Yet not a single one of these
allegations has yet been upheld by the relevant competition authorities.
It is important for policy makers to remember that, in this area, private
broadcasters are scarcely unbiased observers seeking to make arguments
in the public interest.
Board of Governors, by contrast, has no shareholders to consider, and
has only the public interest to worry about. That is why we are so concerned
to ensure that our Fair Trading Commitment is upheld, and why we investigate
complaints on this subject with great care, using external auditors
to assist where necessary. As I say, we normally find that that complaints
are unfounded, and we have recently been told by officers of the competition
authorities that they too are frustrated by the large number of bogus
complaints they receive about the BBC. But let me assure you that we
will continue to examine each complaint on its merits, and take action
dumbing down. As I said earlier, the BBC must never be all about ratings
- or even mainly about ratings. This is why I am proud to say that many
of our landmark programmes in the past year stand comparison with some
of the best that the BBC has ever made: Blue Planet, Walking with Beasts,
Son of God, Clocking Off, The Way We Live Now, Conspiracy, Lost World.
I could go on, and on.
in the face of this roster of stunning programmes, I am concerned that
the BBC still stands accused of maintaining our audience share by "dumbing
down" our output, especially on television, and especially on BBC
that the perception of dumbing down stems partly from the massive proliferation
of television output which has occurred in the past 10 years. Not all
of it can be good, and when you sample 200 channels, 10 seconds at a
time, with your remote control in hand, you can be forgiven for concluding
that most of the output is of dubious quality.
that is why the BBCs family of quality channels is becoming more
important than ever before.
analysis of what is available on BBC ONE and BBC TWO does not support
the claim that we are dumbing down our main channels. BBC ONE has not
dramatically changed the mix and content of its programmes in the past
10 years in fact, we are spending just as much as we have ever
done on arts, science, history and current affairs, and we are showing
more "public service" hours in peak time than we did five
has gone missing from our schedules at peak time the off-the-shelf
American drama series like Dallas. But surely that is a good thing.
We should certainly be spending our licence fee income on Clocking Off
- a great British drama tailored for a British audience - ahead of American
say to me why cant we have television series like Civilisation,
and the Ascent of Man, which we had 30 years ago, in the so-called golden
age of television? They were great series, but they attracted very small
audiences, in the region of one to two million per week.
make great series like the Blue Plant, Simon Schamas History
of Britain and Walking with Beasts. And they attract audiences five
to ten times as large as the landmark series of yesteryear. So we must
be doing something right.
the criticism for dumbing down will not go away. Typically, this criticism
comes from a particular group of people in the UK. They tend to be southern,
white, middle class, middle aged and well educated. Strangely enough,
they are already the type of people who consume a disproportionate amount
of the BBCs services - people who get more out of the licence fee than
they put into it.
cases, the criticism of dumbing down is simply a respectable way of
trying to hijack even more of the BBCs services for themselves.
thing about the BBC is that we all pay exactly the same amount for it.
The Asian teenager on the streets of Leicester has just as much right
to be heard, and to be served, as a member of the House of Lords in
Westminster. The fact is that they may not want exactly the same thing,
but we have to serve them both.
debate about dumbing down should be about how to ensure quality and
enrichment for all our licence fee payers, and not about skewing our
services to appeal to a small minority. Some people continue to argue
that we must choose between mass audiences and programme quality. But
at our best, we can achieve both after all, 80 million people
watched the eight episodes of Blue Planet last year. Unless we can achieve
quality for all, we will not deserve the licence fee.
and finally, what about the argument that we are shuffling all our quality
programmes away from BBC ONE and TWO, and towards minority digital channels.
Here I can be quite emphatic - the BBC has no intention of doing this,
and the Governors would stop it, if anyone tried.
give you the example of arts coverage - an area of much recent concern.
Since last September, the Board has conducted a comprehensive review
of the BBCs arts strategy, including long discussions with the
Controllers of BBC ONE, TWO and FOUR.
that discussion we are now reviewing our commitment to the arts in our
radio and online services:
We have agreed a benchmark baseline of 230 hours of arts programming
per year on ONE and TWO in addition to our digital output. We are well
on target to exceed that for the year 2001/2.
· We will spend £53 million on arts and music programming
across our television channels in 2002/3, the biggest ever BBC investment
in the genre. This figure includes our investment in the special programmes
and performances to celebrate the Queens Golden Jubilee, but compares
with £36.9 million across ONE, TWO, CHOICE and Knowledge for 2001/2.
· In addition to the figures above, the BBC also spends £23
million per annum on supporting the five BBC Orchestras and the BBC
So we are
already taking a rigorous approach in monitoring these commitments.
Our intention is to conduct similar reviews of other genres periodically.
We also recognise that our findings must be announced regularly to the
public and we will therefore report on the BBCs performance against
all these commitments in the Annual Report.
intend to go further. The BBC will publish its first set of Statements
of Programme Policy for each of our public services in mid-July alongside
the Annual Report. In our Annual Report we already report on the actual
hours of output by genre on each of our network television and radio
services. We have now decided that these Statements will include forward
commitments to a minimum number of hours in the main programme genres.
We shall then report on performance against the commitments set out
in the Statements in the following years Annual Report.
that these steps will reinforce the ability of the Governors to guarantee
that the BBC continues to fulfil its basic public service remit. This
is at the heart of ensuring that the public continues to value and trust
the BBC. On average, each citizen spends 22% of their leisure time in
the company of the BBC. Thats a lot of information, education
and entertainment for £109 a year - in the digital age, just as
much as in the past.