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Should Ofcom regulate the BBC?

The BBC Trust seems to be not really living up to expectations. Would Ofcom be a suitable body to regulate the BBC?

Ofcom building, London  Photograph: Flikr
Ofcom building, London Photograph: Flikr
published on UK Free TV

Ofcom is everything you might want from a British regulatory body.

No, it is true.  I have had many personal dealings with Ofcom since it was created and I'm not just saying that they are fair, transparent and honest because they are also polite and have even invited me to be one of the Consumer Panel guests.

Their staff all seem to be dedicated to putting all facts into the open and always publishing the research behind their decisions.  Ofcom publishes rules in advance, and then adjudicates based on the pre-agreed list.  

Their ability to both deal with complaints from single members of the public whilst holding the tide against vexatious and attempts at capture by third parties demonstrate British values of fair play and fair dealing to the core.

Holding out against the vested commercial interests of business and preventing powerful NGOs from using them to make their points is commendable.


The BBC Trust problem

I think that it is fair to say that the BBC's governing body, the BBC Trust, has ever had the word "commendable" associated with it.

The old way the BBC was governed fell apart when a highly respected judge demonstrated unparalleled cognitive dissonance and didn't manage to let all the evidence he heard sit in the same judicial brain as the idea that the Prime Minister was capable of being economical with the truth.

So, having ditched a popular - and populist - Director General in the process, the BBC Governors were seen to be at fault and were replaced by the BBC Trust, which was set up along the lines of the corporate governance of PLCs.

The problem was - and still is - that like Ofcom, the trust sets the rules and adjudicates on them, but also sets policy through service licences and testing the output against the licences.

The problem is that the BBC Trust isn't a trust: it doesn't have the money, so it had no powers beyond "being critical" of the management.

This is a really important distinction.  Ofcom issues licences to broadcasters that involve signing up to the codes of practice and points of law.   Noncompliance means Ofcom can - and rarely does - pull the plug. It can also issue fines.


So let Ofcom govern the BBC?

There is a certain level of logic to this idea.    It would be a good way to deal with the internal conflict the BBC Trust has that makes it need to both defend and critique the BBC management and producers.

Given that, as now, people would be required to complain to the BBC first, with Ofcom being used if matters cannot be resolved.   This seems quite a reasonable idea, given the record for fairness I have pointed to above.

But there are two problems here.   The first is that without sanctions (and the backstop of “pull you off air”) how is this going to actually work?  How do you give this power to a fair regulator and get keep it away from a Machiavellian politician?

The second problem stems from the BBC having it’s own rules.  Won’t someone say “these rules are so similar to Ofcom other rules, why not merge them?”  It is a simple matter of efficiency to sweep away a century-old  pillar of independence from the state.  

Perhaps there is a way for a new BBC supervisory body to subcontract some regulation functions to Ofcom.  This would allow the the new body to use the reputation of Ofcom to boost the BBC, but such an arrangement is far from being clear.

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Sunday, 31 May 2015
Joe Black
7:14 AM

Someone needs to sort out the biased mess of a wasteful corporation, that the BBC has become.
It's funding is archaic, to many - it just looks like a gravy train, it has gone from creating some of the best programmes in the world - so some of the worst - now it is finally, under some sort of threat from the Government - it's unions & staff, have created their own PR defence league: "SAVEOURBBC"

I just hope the government puts the biggest size 12 boot into the BBC it can muster - the corrupt corporation needs it.

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Joe Black's 12 posts GB flag

11:05 AM

Joe Black: Congratulations. You've just typed an amazingly unoriginal and derivative screed, with zero facts or insight. Well done.

Of course you could look at Brian's well presented articles on the BBC and its funding, and base a coherent opinion on that, but why bother?

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MikeB's 2,579 posts GB flag
Prince a Balwah
4:17 PM

Personally I do not use the BBC because better programmes are available on Freesat and Freeview with a global perspective and much more accurate information without national bias.
Children programmes are designed to influence kids to be less practically creative and be mentally active by introducing on hoe things are made, how the money market works, how to use money effectively by explaining how to invest and save.
Educational travel and not superiority inclinations and facts regarding the practicalities of poverty and what cause poverty to exist.
The British Empire is over and the BBC superiority image like British Airways is over, the country need creative workers to be what it is good at, manufacturing and its not a disgrace to be working from a practical level, remove the workman's entrance sign.

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Prince a Balwah's 5 posts GB flag
Friday, 12 June 2015
Charles Stuart

11:33 PM

I've just had an idea about how Ofcom could replace the BBC Trust. It would be a very strange situation if Ofcom found itself having to threaten the BBC with losing its right to broadcast, so assuming that we accept that the BBC is guaranteed its licence, maybe Ofcom could police each BBC channel separately and in exceptional circumstances put an errant channel into "special measures", not dissimilar to those used by Ofsted to try and improve failing schools. The ultimate sanction would be to put the entire corporation into "special measures" but I think that giving Ofcom such a power would open the system to charges of political interference. The objective is to keep the BBC independent, impartial and free from political control.

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Charles Stuart's 159 posts GB flag
Charles's: mapC's Freeview map terrainC's terrain plot wavesC's frequency data C's Freeview Detailed Coverage
Sunday, 20 September 2015

3:06 PM

bbc should come under ofcom control.And ofcom should define what public servive broadcasting is

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david's 66 posts US flag

3:37 PM

david: "Because..." ?

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Briantist's 38,915 posts US flag
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