BBC radio chief: Government demand for more news on Radio One and Two will mean fewer listeners

The BBC’s director of radio and education has said Government demands that Radio One and Two increase their news content would result in audience numbers falling.

In a speech at the Speaker’s House yesterday, James Purnell (pictured) said the Royal Charter, which sets out the corporation’s funding and operations over a decade, presented a “lousy” regulatory challenge.

“The charter small print suggests increasing the amount of news, current affairs, information and social impact on Radios One and Two,” he said.

“That’s a good creative challenge. But it’s a lousy regulatory one.

“If you just increased the amount of news, our audience would fall, and fewer people would listen to news.

“Better to challenge the BBC to increase the number of young people hearing the news, and let us find the creative solution.”

The new Royal Charter took effect in January and will run to 31 December 2027. Proposals for the Royal Charter were laid out in a Government White Paper published in May last year.

Purnell said the Government’s requirement that the BBC become “more distinctive” was supported by the corporation, but that “small text” in the Royal Charter “slides into micro-management”.

“It contradicts [regulator] Ofcom’s general duty to minimise regulation where possible by assuming that all the BBC’s quotas should be kept or increased,” he said.

“In doing so, it risks making the BBC less distinctive, particularly by harming our ability to reach young people.”

Under the charter, Ofcom will be given powers to fine the BBC and force it to take action if it deviates from it.

The Trust will be abolished and instead the BBC director general will report into a unitary board.

Half of the members of the board will be appointed by the BBC itself and the other half by the government through a public appointments process.

It is proposed that the BBC’s core “public purpose” will be reformed to ensure that it does not undermine commercial news providers.

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