Tessa Jowell: BBC Trust still 'best model for governance' but mutualisation would give licence fee payers voice

Labour’s former culture secretary Tessa Jowell has said the BBC Trust is “the best model for the governance” of the corporation.

Writing in The Guardian, Jowell leapt to the defence of the trust following calls for the BBC to be placed under the control of broadcast watchdog Ofcom in the wake of the row over executive pay-offs.

Jowell, who was culture secretary under Tony Blair’s Labour government from 2001-2007, said that although pay-offs totalling £60m to BBC bosses were “impossible to justify”, there was not now “a crisis for the ‘soul of the BBC’’.

She added: “Nor does this overpayment of departing executives mean that the trust model is broken and beyond the possibility of reform.”

The trust came under fire from MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Monday as current and former BBC grandees gave evidence over their respective roles in agreeing pay-offs, including almost £1m to departing deputy director general Mark Byford in 2011.

Addressing BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and fellow trustee Anthony Fry on Monday, PAC chair Margaret Hodge said of governance at the corporation: "We all around the table feel it is broke. What are you going to change?"

Jowell admitted that the trust “has not been a strong or assertive enough voice”” and called for the mutualisation of the BBC to ensure that every licence fee payer was better represented and to “strengthen the trust’s hand”.

She said: “Each licence fee payer would be a shareholder in the BBC, and no bandit raid by a secretary of state would be possible on its content, funding or structure. As one of our most treasured and important public institutions, the principles of mutualism – democratic ownership, solidarity and equity – would fit perfectly with the BBC's editorial remit of impartiality, transparency and accountability.”

Jowell also stood up for the BBC’s record, adding: “It is truly a public good which, despite everything, continues to be an incredibly successful global broadcaster providing high-quality journalism, factual programming and drama, and keeping journalistic and production values higher in the commercial sector than if it didn't exist. It is part of our national identity – let's stand up for it.”

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