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BBC Royal Charter: Mid-term Review

Volume 744: debated on Monday 22 January 2024

The BBC is a unique cultural institution which has provided the model for public service broadcasting across the world. It has been informing, educating and entertaining millions every day, both in the UK and globally, for over 100 years.

Today, having moved into the second half of the BBC’s current 11 year royal charter, I am publishing the mid-term review. This evaluates the effectiveness of the governance and regulatory arrangements introduced by the charter in 2017.

The Government published the terms of reference for the review in May 2022. Following a period of targeted stakeholder engagement and consultation with the BBC, Ofcom and devolved Administrations, we are today publishing our findings with a series of recommendations to deliver better outcomes for audiences. Priority areas considered in the review, and significant recommendations in those areas, include:

Editorial standards and impartiality: If the BBC is to maintain the trust of its audiences it needs to be impartial. While the BBC strives to do this, it can do more. The BBC needs to be more transparent to audiences about how it is delivering its commitment to continuous, long-term improvement on impartiality. We are extending Ofcom’s regulation to elements of the BBC’s online public service material. This reflects that audiences increasingly consume content online and expect the same standards across the BBC’s different services, a change that will also enable Ofcom to better hold the BBC to greater account across its digital services.

Complaints: The feedback of licence fee payers through the complaints system, including concerns about the impartiality of BBC content, is invaluable in helping the BBC deliver its role. Following constructive conversations with the BBC, the mid-term review introduces major reforms that will provide greater external and independent scrutiny of the BBC’s complaints handling. The board will be given a new, legally-binding responsibility in the framework agreement to actively oversee the BBC executive’s handling of complaints. Pre-broadcast editorial policy and post-broadcast complaints resolution will be separated, with the role responsible for leading complaints handling now reporting directly to the director general. The BBC board sub-committee responsible for ensuring that the BBC complies with its complaints framework, the editorial guidelines and standards committee, chaired by a non-executive director, will be given greater powers to scrutinise and challenge how the BBC executive responds to complaints. These reforms will give licence fee payers greater confidence that their complaints have been handled fairly, and that their views have been heard. We also recommend that Ofcom improves the transparency of its decision-making when the BBC has found a breach of its own editorial standards. If the breach is within Ofcom’s regulatory jurisdiction, Ofcom should publicly and clearly record this breach. If it decides not to open a formal investigation into the content against the broadcasting code, Ofcom should clearly explain its rationale in its online bulletin.

Competition and market impact: There must be higher standards of BBC engagement and transparency with competitors. This will ensure that BBC’s competitors are better able to understand the BBC’s plans, and therefore to provide more valuable feedback to the BBC, and where necessary Ofcom, before it makes changes to its services.

The recommendations are for the BBC and Ofcom to take forward. The Government expect timely implementation of these recommendations. A number of the recommendations require changes to the framework agreement which will be published as soon as possible.

The mid-term review has also helped identify early on some of the other key issues that need to be considered at charter review, which we will conclude by 2027. The Government will, on an ongoing basis, continue to focus on the BBC’s impartiality. At the next charter review we will review the effectiveness of the BBC’s social media guidelines; assess whether BBC First remains the right complaints model to enable the BBC to best serve all audiences; and examine the BBC’s role in the wider market, including its distinctiveness and how the regulatory framework may need to evolve to reflect shifts in technology and consumer behaviour.

A copy of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.