A clear vision for the future of the BBC

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The Independent Online

The BBC'S charter manifesto was unveiled by Mark Thompson and Michael Grade yesterday to the sort of fanfare usually reserved for political rallies. But with Lord Hutton's criticism still echoing down the corporation's corridors, and the charter up for review in less than two years' time, the new director general and chairman can be forgiven for setting out their stall as boldly as possible. If they get this wrong, they risk going down in history as the men in charge when the BBC finally went down.

The BBC'S charter manifesto was unveiled by Mark Thompson and Michael Grade yesterday to the sort of fanfare usually reserved for political rallies. But with Lord Hutton's criticism still echoing down the corporation's corridors, and the charter up for review in less than two years' time, the new director general and chairman can be forgiven for setting out their stall as boldly as possible. If they get this wrong, they risk going down in history as the men in charge when the BBC finally went down.

Thankfully, yesterday's manifesto shows that the BBC's leaders have a clear idea of what they must do to restore its reputation, and the necessary steps if they are to compete in a crowded broadcasting environment. At times like this, the BBC is never short of enemies ready to demand its dissolution, but in this instance such calls are likely to be in vain.

The announcement that the board of governors is to be strengthened and made more independent of the management is a clear attempt to demonstrate the lessons of the Hutton inquiry have been learnt. It is doubtful whether the governors failed in the way that it outlined, but this is sensible nonetheless. If it helps draw a line under the unfortunate episode, and allows the BBC to get on with making quality programmes, it is to be welcomed.

The other major proposal is to consolidate the BBC's digital output. The expansion from analogue is over and now the imperative is to improve BBC3 and BBC4, making them more accessible. The BBC was right to join the digital revolution early, and it will reap the benefits when the great "switchover" occurs.

The public value test, which was central to yesterday's launch, is, however, disappointing. It is not sufficiently specific to be a useful guide and one would hope managers would already be evaluating the output in a similar way, rather than needing a central order to that effect.

Despite this, the BBC's leaders have indicated that they are ready to fight the corporation's corner and will not make apologies for its existence in an increasingly competitive sector. This is the response to the Hutton report we hoped for, and one that should carry the BBC through to a successful charter renewal in 2006.

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