BBC to make foreign news and current affairs pledge

By Julie Tomlin

The BBC is to include a commitment to international coverage and current affairs as part of a mission statement being drawn up in preparation for a government review.

Thompson: preparing for debate

BBC chiefs are currently working on a statement, which will set out its commitment to coverage of international affairs and journalism, ahead of its Charter renewal in 2006.

Currently in draft form, the statement builds on Lord Reith’s foundational aim to “inform, educate and entertain”, adding that the corporation will do so by making “great programmes that enrich peoples’ lives”.

Caroline Thomson, the BBC’s director of public policy, who was speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, told Press Gazette that drawing up a mission statement was part of the preparation for a “big debate about the BBC” which could be expected after the communications bill comes into force.

“We have never really had a short, sharp mission statement before and we are working on one that will encapsulate the BBC’s remit and requirements,” she said.

The role of the BBC, its governance and expansion into areas already covered by commercial rivals are issues its opponents have raised in the consultation process for the communications bill, which is due to become law later this year.

Speaking at The Guardian and Institute of Public Policy and Research-run conference, Media Secretary Tessa Jowell signalled that those issues would be debated in a “second phase” of the government’s reshaping of the legislative framework.

The BBC’s Charter renewal in 2006 would provide the opportunity “to look at the heart of the public service broadcasting system”, said Jowell. “It gives us the chance to ask whether the BBC can continue to be the driving force behind public service broadcasting. To ask what shape the BBC should be. To ask what range of programmes it should provide. To ask how it should be accountable to its audiences.

“It gives us the chance to place it within a wider context: to examine again the best use of public funding to guarantee the health and vitality of public service broadcasting.”

A review of the BBC’s rolling news channel, News 24, was recently completed by the former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert. Reviews of the BBC’s online services, as well as the new digital channels agreed last year, are also in the pipeline.

But broadcasters are also concerned that guidelines are drawn up to ensure that the BBC carries out any recommendations that are made.

Julie Tomlin

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