BBC: Public overwhelmingly rejects plans to cut back broadcaster in consultation 'hijacked' by 38 Degrees

A public consultation on the Culture Secretary's plans for a root and branch reform of the BBC received 190,000 responses

Adam Sherwin
Media Correspondent
@adamsherwin10
Tuesday 01 March 2016 16:46
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The views returned to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport were at odds with Mr Whittingdale’s radical plans to scale back the size and ambitions of the corporation.
The views returned to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport were at odds with Mr Whittingdale’s radical plans to scale back the size and ambitions of the corporation.

The public overwhelmingly believes that the BBC provides value for money, helps raises broadcasting standards and should not be cut back in size or scope, a review commissioned by the Government has found.

A public consultation on Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s plans for a root and branch reform of the BBC, launched last year, received 190,000 responses after the 38 Degrees campaign group encouraged its supporters to take part.

The views returned to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are at odds with Mr Whittingdale’s radical plans to scale back the size and ambitions of the corporation, which must make £550m in annual savings.

Just 2 per cent felt the BBC’s basic purpose and values should be changed, according to the results of the consultation published on 1 March.

The majority of responses suggested that “the BBC has been doing enough to deliver value for money, although many responses also said that the BBC must continue to improve in this area.”

More than four-fifths of responses (81 per cent) indicated that the BBC is serving its audiences well – although it should do more to cater for younger viewers and black and ethnic minority audiences.

Almost three-quarters of responses (74 per cent) indicated that the BBC’s content is “sufficiently high quality and distinctive from that of other broadcasters”.

Rather than narrowing the BBC’s focus, the majority of responses “indicated that BBC expansion was justified in the context of increased choice for audiences.”

Fewer than 6 per cent agreed with the sentiment: “I would be happy if the BBC set out to do less but do it better than any other media provider.”

The majority of responses also indicated a view that “the BBC had a positive wider impact on the market, including raising broadcasting standards across the industry.”

Mr Whittingdale has described the licence fee as “regressive”. But three-fifths of the responses to the consultation indicated that “no change was needed to the current system” of funding.

The responses will feed into Mr Whittingdale’s White Paper on Charter Renewal and the future of the BBC, due in May.

Departmental sources previously complained that the survey had been “hijacked by a left-wing campaigning group” - in reference to 38 Degrees. This prompted Rona Fairhead, BBC Trust chairman, to write a letter to Mr Whittingdale expressing her concerns that that some of the responses might be ignored. The DCMS said at the time: “All responses have been treated equally.” The consultation report acknowledged that the involvement of 38 Degrees “undoubtedly contributed to what was one of the largest ever public consultations.”

On 1 March the BBC Trust said: “Once again the public have spoken loud and clear. As they also told the Trust last year, the public values the BBC for its high quality distinctive programming, they don’t want to see it diminished and they want it to retain its independence and funding through the licence fee. It’s very important that the Government takes full account of this evidence when it decides the BBC’s future later this year.”

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