BBC should provide a universal service, says BBC Trust chairman

BBC should provide a universal service, says BBC Trust chairman

The BBC should provide a “universal service” that broadly serves the UK rather than striving to do “everything for everybody”, the chairman of the broadcaster’s governing body has said.

Rona Fairhead said consultations with the public demonstrated the need for value for money, and that the licence fee model was deemed the best way to achieve this, rather than through corporate advertising and direct government funding.

The BBC Trust chairman said previous input from the public resulted in a focus on “distinctive drama” on BBC One, citing the television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s historical drama Wolf Hall as an example of high-quality output.

The Government is currently conducting a review of the BBC’s charter, which is due to expire in 2016.

Ms Fairhead told the Lords Communications Committee: “In the process of this charter review, one of our roles is to represent the views of the public. We have undertaken consultation and research which we will be presenting to the Secretary of State (Culture Secretary John Whittingdale) and the department.

“I think the messages that are coming very strongly from the public is there is a huge amount of support for the BBC as a universal service.

“There is a very clear understanding from the public, over 80% of the public will say it should be independent, it should be impartial. The big issue for them is that it has the highest editorial and creative standards. It has to be good value for money.

“The feedback we have from the public and consultation is that because the public believe in universality of the service, to be able to provide something for everybody, everybody pays something so everybody should receive something. Not ’the BBC should do everything for everybody’, but (it should be) universal so that it serves the UK.”

Mr Whittingdale previously said the review would look at whether the BBC should continue to be “all things to all people” or have a more “precisely targeted” mission.

Ms Fairhead also told the Lords committee of the importance of representing all communities and regions with its output.

She said: “A few years ago BBC One wasn’t deemed to be distinctive enough and needed to have more distinctive drama.

“The response you will have seen over the last year to 18 months is a significant uplift in the distinctiveness of the drama, with things like Wolf Hall, The Honourable Woman, Doctor Foster which is just coming through.

“What it has allowed us to do is have an engagement with the public and get feedback about where they think the BBC isn’t meeting those purposes.”

She also told the committee it was likely the future cost of the licence fee would be in line with inflation.

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