Entertainment & Arts

Tony Hall issues BBC independence warning

Lord Hall
Image caption Lord Hall is calling for a "transparent process"

Proposals to allow greater government say over the running of the BBC risk it being seen as a state broadcaster, BBC director general Tony Hall has said.

His comments follow an independent review which recommends replacing the BBC Trust with a board of directors, half appointed by government ministers.

BBC's TV controller Charlotte Moore has also said she "didn't recognise" claims BBC One had become less distinctive.

Lord Hall made his speech on Tuesday morning in London.

Image caption Charlotte Moore's role was expanded in January to controller of BBC TV channels and iPlayer

Ms Moore, the BBC's controller of TV channels and iPlayer, was making her first speech in the role on Monday at the launch of a batch of new programmes.

She responded to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale's comments that the BBC had become much like its commercial rivals in some of its TV offering.

In comments last year, he cited entertainment programmes such as The Voice, which was recently bought by ITV.

Mr Whittingdale called for the creation of a "more distinctive" BBC after an in-depth review of the broadcaster's services said that BBC One had become "less innovative and less risk-taking".

But Ms Moore, whose role was expanded in January, said: "I don't recognise - and more importantly neither does the public recognise - what the secretary of state said about BBC One.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said he "loves" the BBC

"I'm not sure how much more distinctive the last few weeks could have been - with new shows like The Night Manager, our mental health season, David Attenborough's Giant Dinosaur, Dickensian, War and Peace - not to mention the return of Happy Valley."

On Tuesday Mr Whittingdale stressed to journalists that he is a fan of the corporation.

He told a Press Gallery lunch: "I'll say it again. I love the BBC. I've not set out to destroy the BBC. Reports to the contrary are entirely incorrect."

The politician said news should be an "absolute core central activity of the BBC, and it should be a priority".

"There are savings within the BBC that don't require them to slash news budgets or close a channel", he said, adding "news is not the first place they should look, in many ways it should be the last place".

Lord Hall addressed the Media & Telecoms 2016 & Beyond Conference, saying he welcomed a "transparent and independent process" in deciding the future governance of the corporation.

His speech was in response to an independent report by Sir David Clementi, which also recommended shifting oversight of the BBC to the independent media regulator Ofcom.

'Key decisions'

Lord Hall said he largely welcomes the idea but set out his concerns about plans for the chairman, vice-chairman and four non-executive directors of the proposed BBC board to be appointed by the government.

"When it comes to appointing the members to the new unitary board - the BBC's editorial board - we will be arguing for a transparent and independent process, at arm's-length from the government," he said.

Sir David Clementi said his proposals would mean "half the board or slightly above half would be appointed independently" and that "once appointed, all directors must act in the best interests of the BBC... and uphold the BBC's editorial independence".

Lord Hall said: "Unlike any previous governing body, this unitary board is the very board that will set the editorial direction of the whole BBC.

"It will make key decisions on programmes and services, and it will work with me - as editor-in-chief - on how we manage our impartial journalism.

'Tough choices'

"It doesn't feel to me that these tasks should be undertaken by government-appointed board members. The BBC is one of the world's great public service broadcasters - not a state broadcaster."

He added: "When it comes to appointing the members to the new unitary board - the BBC's editorial board - we will be arguing for a transparent and independent process, at arm's-length from the government.

Lord Hall also repeated his call for the review of BBC charters to be carried out on an 11-year cycle to avoid discussion of the corporation's future coinciding with election campaigns.

The Clementi report is being considered by Mr Whittingdale, who is drawing up the government's forthcoming proposals for the BBC's next charter.

The BBC boss also confirmed that there were £80m of cuts to be made to the corporation's news budget.

"There will be tough choices ahead," he said.

"In the next few weeks, (head of news) James Harding's team will begin reporting back on their three-month review of everything we do in news. They have already set out £5m of savings, but now they are looking for around £80m more."

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