'Inadequate' BBC told to back British films

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The Independent Online

The BBC should invest money in Britain's struggling film industry so film-makers such as Vera Drake's director Mike Leigh would not have to seek funding abroad, MPs said yesterday.

The BBC should invest money in Britain's struggling film industry so film-makers such as Vera Drake's director Mike Leigh would not have to seek funding abroad, MPs said yesterday.

The Commons Culture and Media Select Committee recommended the broadcaster publish a strategy to promote British films in partnership with the UK Film Council. MPs said there was a strong case for "a substantial increase" in the BBC's £10m annual investment in British films.

That figure was criticised as "totally inadequate" by the Film Council when it gave evidence to the committee. More British-made films should be shown on the BBC, the report added.

"Funding for British films is very precious. If you look at Mike Leigh's films, Mike Leigh has got to go to the continent of Europe for a lot of his funding," Sir Gerald Kaufman, chairman of the committee, said.

"In Topsy-Turvy, for example [Leigh's film about Gilbert and Sullivan], he felt that he had to have a scene set in Paris to acknowledge the French funding," he added.

Sir Gerald accused the former BBC director general Greg Dyke of adopting a "cursory approach" to film funding and said he hoped that would change under the new regime at the corporation. "When we had the previous director general, he didn't seem to acknowledge the BBC's role in funding films... We were not happy with his cursory approach," Sir Gerald said.

John Woodward, the chief executive of the Film Council, welcomed the recommendations, saying: "People clearly want to see more British films on television. As the prime public service broadcaster, the BBC should obviously lead the way in giving audiences access to new British films on television and investing in UK film talent."

Film Council figures reveal that only 6 per cent of films shown on the five main terrestrial television channels this Christmas are recent British productions. Television insiders say this is because of UK film industry's lacklustre offerings .

The select committee also recommended that the BBC's system of governance should be split in two, with a completely independent board of governors regulating the broadcaster, and a new, separate management board put in charge of "cheerleading" the broadcaster.

Sir Gerald said he did not think the changes already introduced by the new BBC chairman Michael Grade went far enough. He hit out at the "tokenism" by which governors had been appointed in the past, and called for more board members with experience of the media. MPs also urged the Government to scrap the BBC's 10-year royal charter, which is due for renewal in 2006, and to place the broadcaster on a statutory footing by an Act of Parliament. As this would take time to achieve, the report recommended that an interim charter, lasting just five years, should be granted.

The licence fee was still the best way to fund the BBC, but non-payment should be decriminalised and "menacing" adverts warning of penalties should be dropped, MPs said.

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