'Panorama' to put BBC back under microscope

Panorama, the flagship BBC current affairs programme, is planning to screen a documentary questioning how the public broadcaster is run and financed. It will feature former senior BBC figures taking part in a studio debate discussing the corporation's future.

The programme follows Panorama's controversial reconstruction last month of the events surrounding the Hutton inquiry. Due to be shown on 7 March, it was planned to coincide with the Government's review of the corporation's royal charter. But some BBC insiders fear it could further undermine the public perception of the BBC's right to exist.

Last week the publication of Lord Hutton's damning report plunged the corporation into crisis. The BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, director general Greg Dyke and the journalist whose report sparked the inquiry, Andrew Gilligan, all resigned.

Last month, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, launched a public consultation as part of the Government's review of the BBC's royal charter. The Government will publish a Green Paper on the future of the BBC by the beginning of 2005, a year before its current charter expires.

Patricia Hodgson, who until recently was chairman of the Independent Television Commission and is a former director of planning and policy at the BBC, is being lined up to appear in the programme.

Academics and TV critics will examine questions raised in the public consultation. These include whether the BBC delivers value for money, alternative funding options to the licence fee, and how the corporation's commercial activities fit within its public service broadcasting remit. Some current BBC executives may also participate.

A spokeswoman for the BBC defended Panorama's decision to broadcast the programme: "Like Panorama's Hutton programme, there has been no interference from the corporate side of the BBC," she said. "It's showing our independence on air." Some media commentators labelled Panorama's documentary on Hutton as an exercise in "self-loathing". In it, some of the reporting by Mr Gilligan was described as "flawed".

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, Charles Allen, chief executive of the newly merged ITV, said the Hutton inquiry exposed the weakness of having a board of governors responsible for both regulating and protecting the BBC.

"We have argued for some time that the BBC needs to be regulated by an external regulator," he said. "The real role for the governors' board should be to act more as non- executive board members.

"It's not in our interests to have a weak BBC," he continued. "And I have a lot of sympathy with Greg Dyke. He has accepted he must draw a line in the sand so everyone can move on."