MPs overlook question of BBC accountability

Fabricant       &        Dear

MPs found themselves under attack this week when they invited the NUJ to air their views about the BBC, but did not ask one question about the way it is run.

During a 50-minute long session on the renewal of the BBC’s Charter, only one MP mentioned the subject of news.

After its reporting of the Iraq war plunged the BBC into its biggest ever crisis, resulting in the replacement of the chairman and director general, NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear had gone to the Commons ready to argue the case for “a stronger internal system” to protect journalists and editors from future government pressure.

Written evidence handed over in advance to the all-party media committee also called for the “democratisation” of the governors, to allow trade union representatives of BBC staff to sit on the board.

But Dear emerged from the meeting with Roger Bolton, general secretary of BECTU, and Equity’s Ian McGarry, to express surprise that there had been no questions about making the BBC more accountable. “We are disappointed that they appeared to be looking at charter renewal in purely economic terms,” Dear told Press Gazette.

Union leaders were quizzed as to whether in view of the pace of technological change there was any need for a BBC Charter.

Michael Fabricant, the only MP to make a brief reference to news, criticised the NUJ for backing the status quo. “The NUJ seems to be arguing against any change at all,” he said.

Dear argued the charter provided the BBC with stability. “You cannot run an organisation on the basis that you cannot make long-term decisions about technological change, and being able to deliver them,” he said.

Dear also opposed the sale of the BBC’s commercial operations, which he said brought in £147m a year that was reinvested in the broadcaster.

In its evidence, the union said that while ITV’s news and current affairs had declined, the BBC had maintained its coverage.

“The NUJ wants to see a stronger set of obligations for all broadcasters to provide high-quality news and current affairs across all major channels,” it stated.

Paul McLaughlin, the NUJ’s broadcasting officer, said he hoped the allparty committee would “take on board” the union’s written evidence before submitting its report to Media Secretary Tessa Jowell.

David Rose

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