Government launches 'conversation' on BBC's national role

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BBC governors face being stripped of their regulatory powers as part of a massive overhaul of the corporation, the Government said yesterday.

The review, which comes after the bitter spat between the BBC and the Government over the David Kelly affair, will also examine whether to ditch the licence fee and replace it with another form of funding such as advertising.

Ministers, launching the widest ever consultation on the future of the BBC as the first stage of the review, will ask viewers and listeners to comment on the standard of coverage on TV and radio.

The BBC's Royal Charter is up for review by 1 January 2007.

The public consultation will look specifically at the role of the governors. A consultation paper, published by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport yesterday said the responsibility for accuracy and impartiality will remain the preserve of the governors. But it will look at whether the BBC is, "properly accountable to the public and to parliament."

And it asks: "Do you think, in the regulation of the BBC, there is the right balance between the Governors and [the industry watchdog]?"

It says that, regardless of whether the licence fee is abolished or retained, "BBC accountability will, however, remain a crucial issue."

Yesterday Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, insisted that the aim was not to emasculate the BBC but to allow it to adapt to the modern age. She said she did not want to attack its independence.

"Rapid change means that we must consider how the BBC should be adapted for the future. The one certain outcome of the review will be a strong BBC, with the courage to be editorially autonomous," she said. "Previous Charter Reviews have been conducted in a range of ways. But this review will be different. For the first time, the driving force will be the British people."

The review also questions, "whether the BBC is organised in the most effective and efficient way".

The BBC welcomed the review and said Tessa Jowell was asking, "interesting and challenging questions".

Greg Dyke, the Director General of the BBC, said: "We are pleased that the Secretary of State is committed to the continuation of a strong, independent BBC."

Julie Kirkbride, the shadow Culture Secretary, said: "I am very pleased to see that fundamental questions are being asked about the BBC's role. We should examine the scope and funding of the BBC from the bottom up."

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