Watchdog Ofcom ‘to oversee BBC’

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Published: Friday 26th June 2015 by The News Editor

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The BBC Trust could be scrapped, with its role overseeing the broadcaster handed to media watchdog Ofcom under plans being drawn up by the Government, according to reports.

The move will be signalled in a Government green paper as the corporation’s charter renewal process formally begins, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, who has denied having a “vendetta” against the BBC, has previously suggested stripping the trust of some its responsibilities, and Chancellor George Osborne has praised the work done by Ofcom.

The BBC Trust’s chairman Rona Fairhead has indicated that its powers should be transferred to an external body dedicated to regulating the BBC.

The Telegraph reported that ministers had rejected that option and were instead planning an expanded role for Ofcom, which already acts as the regulator for commercial TV.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: “Ministers are currently considering a range of options for how charter review will be conducted and an announcement will be made in due course.

“There is no set process, but of course we are determined to conduct a robust and thorough process, with significant opportunities for the public to contribute. All aspects of the BBC are up for debate as part of the charter review.”

A BBC Trust spokesman said: “We aren’t going to comment on speculation and these issues will be debated as part of charter review. The important principle is that the BBC’s independence is protected.”

Earlier this month Mr Whittingdale indicated his willingness to review the position of the trust, suggesting it could be stripped of the power to rule on claims of political bias against the BBC.

” There needs to be a very robust system in place for dealing with it,” he said.

” Whether or not the present governance is the right way of dealing with it – the fact that questions of impartiality are judged by the BBC Trust – that is an area which I want to think about because all the other broadcasters have an external regulator looking at the impartiality question.”

Mr Whittingdale said there were areas relating to the BBC where “clearly there is a strong case for change”, but ” it isn’t a sort of vendetta or a punishment exercise or anything like that”.

In April, during the general election campaign, the Chancellor signalled that he believed Ofcom’s role could be expanded to cover the BBC.

The BBC Trust was established in 2007, taking on the responsibilities formerly exercised by the board of governors for setting a strategic direction for the BBC and exercising oversight of its work in the interests of licence fee payers.

Speaking to the Radio Times, Mr Osborne said: “The trust arrangement has never really worked. I’ve never understood why the BBC is so frightened of regulation by Ofcom.

“It’s not as if ITV is poorly regulated. Ofcom has proved itself to be a robust regulator.”

Published: Friday 26th June 2015 by The News Editor

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