Licence Fee payers to be asked future of BBC on Twitter

The new BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead wants to usher in open debate

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The Independent Online

Licence fee payers will be asked on Twitter what kind of BBC they would like to see over the next decade when the corporation’s Charter Review begins, the new head of the BBC Trust has pledged.

Rona Fairhead, BBC Trust chairwoman, indicated that there would be no repeat of 2010 when a new BBC Charter was “stitched-up” in a late-night backroom deal between ministers and BBC bosses.

Negotiations over the new Charter, which will set in place a renewed five-year funding deal for the licence-fee, are due to begin after the General Election.

Giving her first major speech since taking over the post, Ms Fairhead is expected to tell the Royal Television Society today: “This will be a very real debate about the future, size and shape of the BBC. I took this job because I believe the Trust needs to be at the heart of that debate. And I believe it needs to be a proper public debate, not one conducted by a small elite.”

She added: “I believe the debate must include the voices of all the people out there who pay for the BBC, who love its programmes, who are its true owners.”

The Trust will use social media to gauge public opinion about the BBC they want to see.

BBC sources said the Trust was looking to increase its engagement in discussion forums, using Twitter and other social media to encourage people to take part in the consultation.

Ms Fairhead will pledge a full public consultation on the BBC’s proposals. The Trust members will actively go out and talking to the BBC’s stakeholders, sources said.

The Trust published the results of an ICM poll which suggested continued support for the BBC’s core purposes - 85 per cent agree with its mission to inform, educate and entertain and 83 per cent believe its editorial independence is a priority. Impartiality in its news and current affairs is highly prized. Providing good quality programmes and value for money also scored highly.

Ms Fairhead will say: “There is a lot to be confident about. But all the noise around the BBC can be a distraction. I see it as my job to push the BBC to be confident and connected with its audience in everything that it does.”

In 2010 the then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, former BBC director general Mark Thompson and Sir Michael Lyons, ex-BBC Trust chairman, carved up an agreement to freeze the Licence Fee until 2017 after just two days of private discussions.

The deal committed the BBC to take on an extra £500 million in new spending commitments per year, including a controversial agreement to take over funding of the World Service from the Foreign Office.