Raymond Snoddy: The case against has not been proven

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Who would have thought that Labour and the Conservatives would form an unholy alliance to abolish such a social menace as – the BBC Trust?

First, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw decided the Trust, whose job is to represent licence payer's interests and defend the Corporation's independence, should be abolished. Never mind that it was the work of his colleague, former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, or that the body was designed to be more independent of BBC management than the Board of Governors it replaced.

Now, the shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has jumped on this unusual band-wagon.

A Conservative government, Hunt made clear yesterday, would simply abolish the "failed" BBC Trust and also consider "ripping up" the corporation's Royal Charter. That's the same Royal Charter created in 1927 and has been renewed in 10 year tranches by Governments of all persuasions. The present Charter still has seven years to run – unless Mr Hunt manages to rip it up in the meantime.

But what has the Trust done to excite such cross-party hostility. Indeed, how strong is the evidence that it is a failed institution compared, say, to the Financial Services Authority? True, it is not a completely separate authority and has dual functions. There are those, Hunt and Bradshaw included, who believe this makes it flawed.

But a cursory glance at its record so far suggests it has handled that ambiguity rather well, basing its decisions on its own independent research. Some were questionable, such as finding that the BBC did not distort the market in stars' salaries (despite the £18m Jonathan Ross contract). Many were unhappy when it meekly accepted Ross's suspension, rather than sacking him, over the Sachs affair.

But the Trust has been critical of the metropolitan bias of BBC news coverage, and improvements have been made. It has upheld a third of complaints against the corporation on appeal. It has suspended the bonus culture of BBC management and blocked plans to expand regional TV coverage because of its likely impact on the market. There are serious former broadcasters on the Trust such as Richard Tait, former editor-in chief of ITN, and David Liddiment, ITV's former programme director.

Hunt and Bradshaw also need to answer the question: if not the BBC Trust, then what? Ofcom, the communications regulator? Too much centralisation of power – and anyway, David Cameron also wants that abolished or curbed.

The creation of another regulatory body? You can always do that, but before the disruption and extra expense, perhaps it might be better to provide more coherent evidence for the "failure" of the Trust beyond apparent political whimsy.

The writer presents the BBC's viewer access programme, 'Newswatch'