As reported by the Guardian, a report published today by the House of Commons culture select committee criticises the ‘arrogance’ of the BBC Trust and the BBC for brushing off MPs’ concerns over the expansion of the BBC’s commercial activities, particularly BBC Worldwide’s acquisition of Lonely Planet. In the report’s conclusions the committee stated:
“The purchase of Lonely Planet remains the most egregious example of the nature of BBC Worldwide’s expansion into areas where the BBC has no, or very limited existing interests. Had the BBC Trust been a more responsible oversight body, it would have given more serious consideration to the likely impact on the commercial sector. We can only speculate as to why it did not.
“Our report demonstrated that, in terms of public disclosure of the financial details of the Lonely Planet purchase, the BBC was certainly not as transparent as it claimed to us to have been. The BBC’s arrogance demonstrated in much that it presented in its case to us in this respect, and in the way that it ignored this aspect in its response, is self-defeating in terms of the preservation of its public reputation.”
The criticisms follow culture minister Ben Bradshaw’s comments at last week’s Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge: he said there could be a case for a ’smaller licence fee’ and also suggested that the BBC Trust model is not ‘sustainable’.
In response to today’s report, the BBC Trust said it had been carrying out its own review of the BBC’s commercial services, the completion of which has been delayed ‘until there is greater clarity around the Digital Britain report’. The Trust announced changes to BBC Worldwide’s governance which were reported to the committee last week, it said. “These changes addressed a number of the issues to which the committee’s latest report refers,” it claimed.
The BBC Trust Statement in full, made in response to the report:
“The BBC Trust was established to give a stronger voice to licence fee payers and defend the BBC’s independence. BBC Worldwide operates within a framework set by the Charter and Agreement. It has no access to licence fee funding and operates at arm’s length from the BBC’s public services.
“The Trust oversees BBC Worldwide’s strategy and controls. We are committed to ensuring licence fee payers get a good return on their investment, while being mindful of the BBC’s impact on the wider market, and to this end the Trust has been carrying out its own review of the BBC’s commercial services.
“The Trust’s own review was launched in advance of both the Committee’s work and the Digital Britain report. In March the Trust published its interim conclusions, noting that there should be changes to BBC Worldwide’s detailed control framework to establish a more contained focus for its operations. The Trust said that it would publish its final review once the role of BBC Worldwide in the Digital Britain discussions was clear.
“Given this timetable we welcomed the Committee’s report in April, cooperated with their enquiry and responded as fully as we were able to at the time of its publication.
“In the meantime our work has continued on specific issues. The Trust last week announced changes to BBC Worldwide’s governance which were reported to the Committee. These changes addressed a number of the issues to which the Committee’s latest report refers.
“Although the completion of our review of Worldwide has been delayed until there is greater clarity around the Digital Britain report, we are eager to complete this work and look forward to announcing further conclusions as soon as possible.”