A committee of MPs has launched a stinging attack on the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, accusing it of arrogance for failing to adequately address a number of recommendations about its commercial operations.
The Culture Media and Sport select committee said today the Trust appeared to believe it had ‘no case to answer’ over the activities of BBC Worldwide, its commercial wing.
Publishing a strongly-worded second report into the BBC’s commercial activities, the select committee rejected Trust claims that it had tightened procedures, calling its purchase of travel publishing company Lonely Planet the ‘most egregious example’ of expansion into areas where the BBC has ‘no, or very limited interests.’
It stated: “Had the Trust been a more responsible oversight body it would have given more serious consideration to the likely impact [of buying Lonely Planet] on the commercial sector. We can only speculate why not.”
The committee also criticised the BBC Trust for failing to reveal the full financial details of the Lonely Planet purchase.
It said: “In terms of public disclosure of the financial details of the Lonely Planet purchase, the BBC was certainly not as transparent as it claimed to us to have been.”
The report said despite earlier assurances from the BBC, Lonely Planet magazine – which BBC Worldwide launched last November – occupied a ‘very similar’ market to an existing commercial competitor and had an ‘adverse effect on the market place.’
The report claimed the Trust had also ignored a number of other points it had previously raised about the governance of its commercial wing, accusing the Trust of using talks about a possible tie-up between BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 as ‘an excuse’ to avoid publishing more detailed replies to its recommendations.
The BBC has been under attack from all sides in recent weeks. Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw used his address to the RTS convention, in Cambridge last week, to say the Trust it was not “sustainable in the long term” and raise concerns about the corporation’s regulatory structure.
Today’s report, the latest in a growing line looking at BBC commercial activities, was published to pass comment on a series of responses submitted to the committee from the BBC Trust following publication, in April, of an earlier set of recommendations from MPs which said BBC Worldwide needed a “more contained focus”.
MPs took the unusual step of publishing a second report as it felt the BBC’s response to the committee’s first report, published in April, was “not coherent”.
BBC Worldwide has come under attack from a number of commercial rivals, including newspaper publishers who expressed concern about its web ventures and magazine publishers such as Time Out and Wanderlust following its acquisition of Lonely Planet.
John Whittingdale, culture committee chairman, said: “This is a further illustration of the disregard shown by the Trust to the work done by the committee and its arrogance in appearing to dismiss many of its recommendations without proper consideration or comment. We look to the BBC to respond with greater diligence to Select Committee reports in future.”
In response the BBC Trust has pointed to a review into the corporation’s commercial operations it made public last week.
That review included a handful of the measures put forward by MPs in the April report, including removing executives working in the main broadcasting operation from the board of BBC Worldwide.