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BBC ‘Needs to Adapt or Risk Losing Trust of Audiences,’ Says Culture Secretary as U.K. Government Publishes Mid-Term Review

The U.K. government is giving more power to the BBC and media regulator Ofcom to handle complaints as part of its mid-term review into the corporation’s functioning.

The Royal Charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC. The current Charter began on Jan. 1 and ends on Dec. 31 2027. The U.K. government’s mid-term review of the Charter, which began in May, 2022, focused on governance and regulatory arrangements.

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The review states that audiences will be given greater certainty that their complaints about BBC TV, radio and on demand content – including concerns about bias – are dealt with fairly, through greater scrutiny of its complaints process, which is to be made more independent from program makers. A new legally binding responsibility on the BBC board will require it to actively oversee the BBC’s complaints process to assure audiences that their concerns are being fairly considered.

In addition, Ofcom oversight will be extended to parts of the BBC’s online public services, including the BBC News website, to “enable Ofcom to hold the BBC to account in a more robust way,” the review says. Ofcom will be given a new legally binding responsibility to review more of the BBC’s complaints decisions.

The review also stresses the need for the BBC to clearly demonstrate how it will meet its obligations on distinctiveness over the remainder of the Charter period, and for it to “meaningfully engage with its competitors, such as radio stations and local newspapers, when it is considering a change to its services.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “The government wants to see a strong, independent BBC that can thrive in the years to come as a major contributor to the nation’s successful creative industries. In a rapidly changing media landscape the BBC needs to adapt or risk losing the trust of the audiences it relies on. Following constructive conservations with the BBC and Ofcom, we have recommended reforms that I believe will improve accountability while boosting public confidence in the BBC’s ability to be impartial and respond to concerns raised by licence fee payers.”

“These changes will better set up the BBC to ask difficult questions of itself, and make sure Ofcom can continue to hold the broadcaster to account. We all rely on the BBC being the best it can be and this review will help ensure that is what the British public gets,” Frazer added.

Responding to the review, a BBC spokesperson said: “No other organization takes its commitment to impartiality more seriously. We have well-established and detailed plans to sustain and further improve standards. We know this matters to audiences and the BBC continues to be the number one source for trusted news, with the highest scores for impartiality and accuracy.

“During discussions over the mid-term review, we proposed and implemented a number of reforms, including strengthening our complaints procedures, which now form part of the conclusions.  We are pleased the government has fully taken our proposals onboard. We remain committed to continuous improvement to ensure we deliver for all licence fee payers.

“The BBC is operationally and editorially independent and we will continue to engage constructively with government, and our regulator Ofcom, over the second half of this Charter and as we look ahead to a new Charter in 2028.”

Frazer did the media rounds on Monday after the government’s publication of the mid-term review. Reacting to this, Philippa Childs, head of U.K. media and entertainment union Bectu, said: “Impartiality matters to BBC audiences, staff and freelancers, and it’s important that the BBC is exemplary in this regard.

“It’s critical that the government meaningfully engages with these issues rather than peddling misinformation and stoking culture wars. Bectu members do brilliant work every day to ensure the BBC remains a trusted and respected broadcaster, and the Culture Secretary’s interviews this morning are unfortunately more of the same – headline-grabbing pronouncements based on unsubstantiated claims regarding BBC bias.

“It’s important that the BBC continues to have a sharp focus on impartiality, but it remains the U.K.’s most trusted news brand. Its independence and impartiality is critical to the continued success of the U.K.’s thriving creative industries. We need a government that will work with and support the BBC to uphold these principles, rather than seeking to undermine our world-leading public service broadcaster.”

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