The UK government has published its white paper on the future of the BBC, a document which sets out the main elements of the renewal of the BBC Charter, which will define the remit and governance of the public service broadcaster for the next 11 years.
There is concern that the proposed composition of the new ‘unitary board’ might undermine the independence of the BBC.
Under the new charter, the current system of internal supervision of the BBC will be replaced by an external mechanism of regulation: the BBC will fall under the jurisdiction of Ofcom, the independent regulatory authority that supervises communications industries in the UK.
The white paper also proposes reforms to the board of the BBC. Under the new charter, the government would appoint the Chair, the Deputy Chair and 4 members of a board, of 12 to 14 members. The other members would be appointed by the BBC. Even if the white paper pledges to strengthen the editorial independence of the BBC with specific clauses to be included in the new charter, there is real concern that the proposed composition of the board will pave the way for governmental interference upon the most influential broadcaster in the UK.
ARTICLE 19 insists that, under international standards on freedom of expression, the independence and autonomy of public service broadcasters must be guaranteed. Members of the board of the public service broadcaster should be appointed in a manner that minimises the risk of political or commercial interference, and contributes to ensuring that members serve in their individual capacity and exercise their functions at all times in the public interest. Overall, membership should represent the whole of society. There should be clear rules of incompatibility protecting the board from political and commercial influence.
ARTICLE 19 invites the government to review its proposal in order to guarantee that the new board of the BBC will benefit from the effective independence that is required to fulfil its role in the service of the public. The role of the government should consist at most of formally appointing those persons chosen through a transparent and participatory process that allows the public to have an effective voice in the selection of the governance structure of the public service broadcaster. Parliament could be responsible for appointing a part of the board on the basis of a list of candidates proposed by civil society stakeholders. In any case, all appointment processes should be transparent and open to participation from the public. The board should be responsible for electing its own chair and deputy chair.
ARTICLE 19 recommends that:
- the new framework for the regulation of the BBC by Ofcom should be established through open and participatory consultation processes that will clearly and precisely determine the role and powers of the regulator with respect to the public service broadcaster;
- members of the board should be appointed through a transparent and participatory process that allows the public to have an effective voice in the selection of the governance structure of the public service broadcaster.