For over a half-century, PBS has operated with a mission statement to “…use media to educate, inspire, entertain and express the diversity of perspectives through programming that that expands the minds of children, documentaries that open up new worlds, non-commercialized news programs that keep citizens informed on world events and cultures and programs that expose America to the worlds of music, theater, dance and art”.
Much like its American counterpart, the mission of the BBC during it’s 93-year-history has been to operate under the mission statement formulated by its founding father Lord Reith to “inform, educate and entertain”. It’s longer than that but, you get the idea.
As has been the case with PBS in America, the BBC comes under detailed secrutiny when it’s time for its royal charter renewal. As we reported here recently, one of the proposals, which was ‘leaked in advance’, put forth by current Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdale, who seemed hell-bent on imposing scheduling restrictions, would have severely impacted the BBC and would “…massively erode the foundations of independence and leave the BBC as the perpetual plaything of the political classes”.
While it seems that Whittingdale has backed off on a number of his ‘slicing proposals’, the current Conservative Government thinks that the current mission statement is not enough and has imposed a new, more expansive one in an official BBC White Paper on the future of the Corporation. Now the BBC has been told that it must “…act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality and distinctive content and services that inform, educate and entertain”. Honestly, it’s what they do already, now it’s just in print.
Stopping short of the feared requirement not to schedule big shows like Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off against rival shows on competitor channels like ITV, the White Paper merely orders the BBC to “…carefully consider any potential undue negative impacts of its scheduling decisions” but makes no specific demands. As I had mentioned earlier, this is about the British people, not about corporate interests and the need to make a bigger profit because the BBC is trying to get an audience with quality programming.
It says: “The government is clear that it cannot and indeed should not determine either the content or scheduling of programmes. And schedule clashes are clearly not the responsibility of one particular operator in the market. We expect the BBC board to consider the best interests of viewers – giving them a choice and variety of shows to watch, and carefully consider any potential undue negative impacts of its scheduling decisions.”
Don’t get me wrong, and I think the BBC would agree, a majority of the key changes and proposals are worthy of putting on paper. Accountability and transparency are always a good thing. Government intervention just for the sake of government intervention is not. It was the ‘leaked’ proposal about imposing schedule restrictions that was dangerous. Just like PBS, it is vital for the future of the BBC that its independence is fully preserved and be allowed to do what has done like no other broadcaster around the world for the past 93 years.
For a more detailed review of the just released BBC White Paper and the BBC official response, the Radio Times has broken it down point by point brilliantly so you don’t have to slog through the entire 136 page document in your spare time. It’s actually quite an interesting read if you want to give it a go.