Q: What do a Jeremy Paxman interview and an armed robbery have in common?; A: They are both pawns in a new game of TV politics

BBC muzzles interviewers
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The Independent Online
The BBC yesterday unveiled its first "statement of promises" to licence fee payers, guaranteeing fewer repeats, value for money, more original British programming and full accountability to viewers.

The move toward introducing a Citizen's Charter for the BBC was widely seen last night as part of the public service broadcaster's highly public campaign to win an increase in the licence fee to more than pounds 100 within two years.

As it wooed the political parties the corporation also said it pledged to curb violence and bad language, in line with viewers' sentiments, and to ensure there were no "Rottweiler" interviews. The BBC has been criticised in the past for the aggressive interviewing techniques of presenters such as John Humphreys of Today and Jeremy Paxman of Newsnight.

The statement, which runs to 50 pages and which will be sent to 10 million households, follows a long consultation process launched by the renewal of the BBC Charter last year. The corporation will have spent nearly pounds 500,000 on the consultation and mailing.

Introducing the statement yesterday Sir Christopher Bland, the Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, said: "Viewers and listeners fund the BBC through the licence fee. They have a right to know what the BBC is planning to do, year by year. They have the right to know whether the BBC has spent money effectively and how the BBC is responding to their views."

Among specific pledges the BBC said it would strive to ensure that eight out of every 10 hours of programming was made in the UK and that at least a third of programmes are made in the regions by 1998.

Promises covering programmes for ethnic groups, more factual shows in peak time and a new morning schedule were also made. Interviewers would ask "appropriately forceful questions with courtesy and a consistent tone, regardless of who holds those opinions".

The BBC also said it would take account of viewers' preferences when selecting which programmes would be repeated.

Complaints would be answered within 20 working days.

The statement of promises was said yesterday to be consistent with John Major's Citizen's Charter and was aimed at ensuring that licence fee payers felt the television and radio services provided value for money.

"This is the start of a closer relationship between the world's greatest cultural institution and those who make it what it is - the licence payers," John Birt, the director general, said.

The BBC launched its campaign to win a higher licence fee in August and is awaiting the Government's decision about the formula to be used to set the payment from 1 April next year. The BBC has suggested a modest, single-digit annual increase to take the fee to pounds 100 within two years.

The higher fee is linked to plans to introduce digital services from next year and to safeguard the core television and radio programming. It would mark the first real increase in the fee for 10 years, the BBC has argued.

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