Ofcom won't judge BBC

By David Rose

The
Government has rejected a demand to make media regulator Ofcom the
final judge as to whether BBC journalists are fair and accurate.

A cross-party committee of peers had urged that Ofcom should be
given the same oversight powers over the BBC that it already has over
other broadcasters.

The BBC would still have examined complaints
on accuracy and impartiality, but complainants dissatisfied with its
verdict would have been able to appeal to Ofcom.

Lord Fowler, a
former Times journalist, and chairman of the committee, told peers
during a debate on the committee’s report: “I do not regard that as
unnecessary interference in the affairs of the BBC, but simply as
ensuring an independent check for the public who finance the
corporation.”

But, while Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will
deliver her formal response when she publishes a White Paper in the new
year, spokesman Lord Davies said there would be no change to the green
paper, when the Government said it was opposed to Ofcom having
oversight powers over the BBC as a whole.

“The Government has
taken a firm line from which we do not intend to budge,” Lord Davies,
deputy Government chief whip in the Lords, told Lord Fowler.

The Government has also rejected the peers’ demand to replace the Royal Charter governing the BBC with an Act of Parliament.

The
peers claimed that the Hutton report showed that: “The BBC’s current
constitutional and funding arrangements are not sufficiently robust to
prevent unease within the BBC about its future should it upset the
Government of the day”.

Lord Fowler said: “The passage of any Act
through Parliament is more democratic, more independent and more
transparent.” But Lord Davies rejected the argument. He said an Act of
Parliament “would leave the BBC much more open to political
intervention”

and said the Government would renew the Royal Charter.

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