BBC told charter should be axed to end 'toadying'

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The Independent Online
RHYS WILLIAMS

Scrapping the charter, axing the National Lottery show and increasing the licence fee will help guarantee the BBC's future, according to a seven- point plan issued by a leading ITV executive yesterday.

Steve Morrison, managing director of London Weekend Television, also urged the corporation to strip out excess management, phase out producer choice, focus its attention back on quality programme production and replace its 16-person board of management with a small executive board.

Mr Morrison said at a festival debate: "As channels expand there will be greater demand for the best BBC programmes. It would be scandalous if, at the very moment when the BBC can produce the best of British television at home and abroad, we choose to run down this centre of excellence for political reasons."

The charter had become a "millstone because it keeps the BBC toadying to the Government". Both ITV and Channel 4 were legislated for by the Broadcasting Act 1990 without any apparent loss of independence, while the Act also effectively guaranteed Channel 4's public service remit.

The licence fee, meanwhile, had proved to be "the least worst way to pay for the BBC" and needed raising to allow the corporation to compete more effectively in the hyper-inflationary television rights market.

Nick Fraser, editor of BBC2's Fine Cut, said the corporation had to begin believing in its programme-making ability again to compete worldwide. "Reforms were badly needed - they came far too late. However, during the 1990s, the BBC became a fashion victim of management theory. The symptoms included a spirit of credulity in relation to systems and acronyms and a disregard for the needs and talents of real people."

Meanwhile, television news executives admitted they were conned by Greenpeace's slick media management over the Brent Spar story and warned against a repeat with protests against French nuclear tests on Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific.Both the BBC and Channel 4 expressed concern that pictures of the occupation of the rig by Greenpeace activists, often under the wash of Shell's water cannon, eclipsed the issues and, at times, facts of the story.

David Lloyd, senior commissioning editor of news and current affairs at Channel 4, told industry delegates: "On Brent Spar, we were bounced. It matters because by the time broadcasters tried to introduce scientific argument into the narrative, the story had long since been spun far, far in Greenpeace's direction."

The pressure group provides its own footage. Sarah Nathan, editor of Channel 4 News, said her request for a technician to film alongside a specialist journalist on the Pacific boat had been rejected.

Richard Sambrook, news editor of BBC Newsgathering, said the media had been "had" by Greenpeace's presentation. "It was our own, the media's fault. We never quite put enough distance between ourselves and the participants."

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