Ofcom to begin regulating BBC in major Tory shakeup

The BBC headquarters  © Neil Hall
Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, will soon come under the watchful eye of Ofcom like every other media channel in the country, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley confirmed after publishing the Beeb’s new draft charter.

With the end of the BBC Trust planned over the coming months, all regulatory responsibilities will be passed to media watchdog Ofcom, which welcomed the change saying it “will hold [the BBC] to account and help ensure it meets the expectations of audiences.”

“In particular, the framework should be effective in ensuring the BBC is distinctive as the needs and tastes of audiences change over the lifetime of the charter,” a spokesman added.

The shake-up is part of former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s reforms for the corporation, first announced in May this year. It includes a new board to which nine new members will be recruited by the BBC, while another five will be public appointments.

In Parliament, Shadow Culture Secretary Kelvin Hopkins suggested the involvement of government in the BBC’s daily management would undermine the broadcaster’s much-advertised independence.

“The BBC must be protected and sustained both in its independence and its funding,” Hopkins said Thursday.

“Will the secretary of state accept that both of these are under some degree of threat? Is it not the case that the Charter Bill will sustain a degree of government pressure through the BBC having government appointees on its board?”

The Labour frontbencher also accused the Tories of threatening the quality of the BBC’s programing by introducing five-year reviews of the BBC’s Charter.

Hopkins believed the measure, also announced on Thursday, would “put pressure on the BBC to look over its shoulder and seek to avoid upsetting governments of the day.”

The charter is expected to last 11 years, so as to fall outside the usual election cycle.

Paychecks made public

Further changes introduced by Bradley’s new draft charter include plans to make public the salaries of BBC stars and employees earning more than £150,000 per year.

The culture secretary believed the policy would help make the BBC as “open and transparent as possible.”

But BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead slapped down the move, arguing it could discourage major stars from working with BBC channels.

“We don’t agree with the government on everything and are disappointed with the decision on the disclosure of presenters’ pay,” said the outgoing exec.

“We don’t believe this is in the long-term interests of licence fee payers.”

Fairhead made headlines earlier this week when she announced she would be stepping down from her role following advice from Prime Minister Theresa May.

Rather than reapplying for her job, as suggested by May, Fairhead decided to return to her career in the private sector, arguing the corporation needed a “clean break.”

She was previously employed as an anti-fraud consultant by the banking giant HSBC, but left the job during the bank’s Swiss accounts tax-dodging scandal in 2015.