What is the future of the BBC?

The BBC flies the flag for public service broadcasting - but a major overhaul in the way it's run could change that.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 16 Jun 2016

Formative years

The British Broadcasting Corporation we know and (mostly) love dates back to 1926 and a remarkable piece of political footwork which delivered both guaranteed funding and editorial independence in one fell swoop - all enshrined by Royal Charter. Not a bad day's work for its 38-year-old then-general manager John (later Lord) Reith.

But it could all have been very different - the original British Broadcasting Company of 1922 was a private sector JV formed along US lines, complete with shareholders, sponsored programming and a regular board of directors. Who knew?

Recent history

That was then. In the connected, converged and citizen-powered media market of the 21st century, it is claimed (usually by those with an axe to grind) that the whole public service remit is seriously behind the times. More Dixon of Dock Green than Line of Duty.

Not to mention extravagant - commercial rivals from Sky to BT reckon the Beeb's £3.7bn licence fee income makes it unfair and anti-competitive. 3,000 jobs have gone on the way to savings of £1.5bn, but not without a struggle. In May, the news that BBC Food's recipes website was to be mothballed to save £15m prompted over 200,000 outraged signatures on an online petition - and a hasty climbdown.

Who's in charge?

A good question. Tony Hall is the director general, but it's not that simple of course. It looks to some like the government is trying to take over - the Trustees are on the way out, to be replaced by a supervisory board with around half its members appointed by Westminster. Most ignominious of all, telecoms regulator Ofcom will get to add the BBC to its roster. When does improved accountability become unacceptable interference? We may be about to find out.

Don't mention

Where to start - Jimmy Savile, Operation Yewtree, all those eye-watering executive payoffs. Beset as it is by troubles on all sides, the saddest truth of all is that the BBC has been the author of its own worst misfortunes, and the greatest damage has come from within.

Vital Statistics

Income: £4.8bn

Employees: 20,951

Licence fee: £145.50 per household

Source: BBC Annual Report 2014/15

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