BBC told to place entertainment at heart of service
Unveiling the Government's White Paper on the future of the BBC, the Culture Secretary said one of the clearest messages to emerge from a public consultation on last year's Green Paper was a concern that the Government was in danger of losing sight of the importance of entertainment to the BBC.
Ms Jowell said: "Licence- fee payers told us it all sounded a bit worthy. What they cared about most was getting BBC programmes they wanted to watch and listen to. So the White Paper makes entertainment central to the BBC's mission. The BBC should continue to take fun seriously engraining entertainment into its services.
"This isn't about writing the BBC a blank cheque or chasing ratings through copycat programming. It is about ensuring that the BBC deliver what licence- fee payers deserve: quality and distinctiveness."
Strictly Come Dancing, Life on Earth and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue were singled out in the White Paper as examples of content that inspired and excited audiences.
The BBC chairman, Michael Grade, said: "People tend to think of public service broadcasting as being rather worthy, but it isn't. The public tell us that they regard Only Fools and Horses, Strictly Come Dancing and EastEnders as just as much part of public service as an esoteric arts documentary on BBC4."
Ms Jowell also confirmed the BBC's "anachronistic" board of governors would be replaced with a new trust, separate from management, which she described as "a unique solution for a unique organisation in unique circumstances". Under the new system, a separate executive board will be answerable to the trust.
The Culture Secretary sought to allay the fears of the BBC's commercial rivals by reassuring them the media regulator Ofcom would carry out a market impact assessment before any new services were launched or any major changes made to existing services.
The trust will also be given a new duty to take competition issues into account while ensuring the BBC is acting in the public interest. But competitors remain concerned that the BBC trust will have the final say in approving new services through a public value test, although the Secretary of State has the power of veto if the correct procedures are not followed.
The White Paper confirmed the BBC would continue to be funded by the licence fee for the next decade, although a review considering alternative forms of funding after that will be instigated in 2012.
No decision on the BBC's demand for the licence fee to be increased by 2.3 per cent above inflation will be made until the summer but, as part of the settlement, the Government is considering asking the BBC to provide some financial assistance for Channel 4, including helping the broadcaster to meet the cost of digital switchover.
It is also looking at the possibility of distributing the licence fee beyond the BBC after 2016. The White Paper charges the BBC with acting as a "trusted guide" to an age of personal video recorders, television via over mobile phones and the internet and high definition television.
The shadow Culture Secretary, Hugo Swire, attacked the Government's blueprint for the BBC, saying it was "a disappointment". He said: "Is not the BBC trust any more than the BBC governors in another building - just as cosy, twice the rent?"
* Entertainment to be placed at the heart of the BBC's mission
* A new trust and separate executive board to replace the board of governors
* Ofcom to carry out a market impact assessment on changes to BBC services
* The trust will take on a new duty to consider competition issues
* Six new purposes set out: citizenship, education, creativity, reflecting the UK's nations and regions, promoting the BBC overseas and building digital Britain.
* BBC may be asked to provide financial assistance to Channel 4
* The BBC to help steer the public through digital switchover
* Independent production companies will be able to bid to make an extra 25 per cent of programmes
* Licence fee guaranteed to 2016
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