Greg Dyke on Broadcasting

Lord Burns's new proposals for the BBC make sense

Not everyone has welcomed Lord Burns's proposals for the future governance of the BBC; some commentators are even suggesting that the impact of his plans would damage the organisation. They are wrong. If implemented, Lord Burns's proposals would not only create a BBC that is more politically independent and easier to run than it is today, but it would also be better able to fight off the power and influence of Rupert Murdoch's Sky and the other commercial broadcasters.

Not everyone has welcomed Lord Burns's proposals for the future governance of the BBC; some commentators are even suggesting that the impact of his plans would damage the organisation. They are wrong. If implemented, Lord Burns's proposals would not only create a BBC that is more politically independent and easier to run than it is today, but it would also be better able to fight off the power and influence of Rupert Murdoch's Sky and the other commercial broadcasters.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, should ignore the bleating about the proposals that she's bound to get from people, including the current governors, and instead just implement Burns's suggestions.

There's only one area where I would differ from Lord Burns; I don't think his newly proposed Public Service Broadcasting Commission should be able to top slice the licence fee to give some of it to other broadcasters, such as Channel 4. That apart, I think Burns and his group have done a pretty good job in sorting out a regulatory structure which currently doesn't work. In particular, the plan to set up two boards - one inside to run the BBC and one outside to regulate it - is eminently sensible, as is the proposal that the new PSBC should take over the responsibility for overseeing the future of public service broadcasting from Ofcom.

Since he became chairman of the BBC, Michael Grade has tried valiantly to reform the governance of the organisation without tackling its basic contradiction: that one board shouldn't be responsible for both management and regulation. In an era of ever greater demands for public accountability, continuing with that position cannot be intellectually explained or justified.

Instead of accepting this, Michael has tried to strengthen the governors' regulatory function by spending several millions of pounds on new regulatory staff while people with similar talents are being made redundant at the BBC. But rather than helping the case for preserving the current system, his changes have only illustrated its contradictions.

If the chairman and governors become strong and distant regulators, which is what is currently happening, whom does the director-general report to? Who is there above him to help him? Who supports him when things aren't going well and whom does he bounce ideas off? In my time as director-general I had two outstanding chairmen in Christopher Bland and Gavyn Davies who, I suspect, both saw the support role as more important than the regulatory one. But how can a chairman play that role if he is also trying to double-guess the management on strategy and in effect plan the whole strategic direction of the organisation? Lord Burns has the right answer: split the functions and have two boards and two chairmen.

And for the staff of the BBC, a beleaguered bunch that neither the director-general nor the governors appears to value greatly, the Burns solution will be far more satisfactory. In the future there will be no confusion; the board of the BBC will now be on their side. The role of the BBC's governors will be to put forward the best picture of the BBC. It will be the job of the outside regulator - the PSBC - to criticise publicly. So instead of producing an annual report as the governors did this year which was critical of BBC1, in future the BBC board will do what the boards of most organisations do and tell the world what's good about it.

Before Michael Grade took the job as chairman he knew that there was a chance that the two roles - regulator and responsibility for management - would be split. At the time he seemed to agree. But, like so many people who join big organisations, once he was in the job he tried to defend the indefensible.

So assuming the split happens, does he become chairman of the BBC or chairman of the regulator? When he ran Channel 4 he was the least likely person ever to be a regulator. But it is not unknown for poachers to become gamekeepers and that's certainly the direction he has gone so far

* Last week it seems I did John Lloyd a disservice when I suggested that when he was a student, nearly 40 years ago, he suggested to Mary Whitehouse - I presume jokedly - that they should have sex on the floor of a television studio. He assures me it wasn't him, so sorry about that John. What I do know is that it was one of my former LWT colleagues, so will they please own up?

Both ITV and 4 are digital losers

I smiled when I read that Channel 4 and ITV are bidding each other up in the contest to buy the spectrum needed to launch a single additional Freeview channel which is currently being auctioned. Three years ago, just before the BBC and others launched Freeview, both Channel 4 and ITV were invited to join the project and by doing so acquire additional channel capacity. Both turned the opportunity down.

In the case of Channel 4 at least, chief executive Andy Duncan can claim that it wasn't his fault the channel didn't jump on the Freeview bandwagon. At the time he was in charge of marketing at the BBC and was one of the reasons why Freeview became successful. Current BBC boss Mark Thompson was the man who said no for Channel 4.

But ITV in the shape of Granada and Carlton were the people who really missed out. Having lost £1.2bn between them on the first incarnation of digital terrestrial television when ITV Digital went bust, both then decided not to join Freeview and, as a result, completely missed out on DTT's successful reinvention. It was hardly one of the great business decisions - a bit like heads you lose and tails you lose.

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