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'No prospect' of BBC abolition but it must modernise, says John Whittingdale

Published 16/09/2015

John Whittingdale says the BBC has made some bad mistakes
John Whittingdale says the BBC has made some bad mistakes

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has said there is "no prospect" of the BBC being abolished but insisted it must modernise - including reviewing the future of the flagship 10 o'clock news bulletin.

Mr Whittingdale was speaking at the opening of the three-day Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge on Wednesday night after earlier announcing a review of the corporation's governance in light of a series of "bad mistakes" in recent years.

He said the Government would not seek to limit the BBC's reputation as a worldclass broadcaster but said it was important to review how the organisation fits into the modern broadcasting "landscape".

This should include more "distinctive programming", for example reviewing whether it "makes sense" for BBC's main 10pm news bulletin to be broadcast at the same time as its ITV counterpart, Mr Whittingdale added.

Referring to public reaction to a Green Paper on the future of the corporation published earlier this year, he said: "I was surprised it was interpreted as heralding the demise of the BBC or part of a Murdoch inspired agenda to dismantle it.

"There is absolutely no prospect of the BBC being abolished.

"Had I been asked if I could live without the BBC, my answer would have been 'no'.

"Let me be clear that there is no threat to the BBC as a wordlcass broadcaster."

Mr Whittingdale said it would be "completely wrong" for any politician to try to dictate what programmes are made by the BBC or staffing levels at the corporation.

But it was right to ask questions about the how distinctive its programming is, he added.

Mr Whittingdale has already warned of cuts at the BBC, saying that the organisation should make "the same efficiency savings as we're asking every public body to do".

The stance has provoked a public debate, most notably with satirist and Thick of It creator Armando Iannucci saying ministers should help promote the BBC to "capitalise financially" overseas.

Mr Whittingdale addressed this point directly, saying he was looking forward to meeting Mr Iannucci "soon" to discuss his ideas further.

The Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DMCS) announced the review of how the BBC is regulated as part of the ongoing Royal Charter review earlier on Wednesday , saying it was being launched in light of a series of scandals in recent years.

These include the broadcaster's handling of Jimmy Savile abuse allegations, Lord McAlpine's libel claim over false child abuse allegations and the furore over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's 2008 phone call to actor Andrew Sachs.

In a statement, Mr Whittingdale said: "Television is of huge importance to the nation - and the BBC lies at the heart of British television.

"However no-one could deny that the BBC has made some bad mistakes in the last few years.

"Savile, McAlpine, Ross-Brand, severance payments and excessive salaries have all contributed to a widespread view that the governance structure needs reform.

"So as part of the Charter Review process, I am pleased to announce that I am setting up an independent review into the governance and regulation of the BBC."

A statement from the DCMS, said the review would ensure the correct checks and balances are in place to hold the organisation to account and ensure it "delivers for licence fee payers".

The review will be carried out by Sir David Clementi, former chairman of Virgin Money and Prudential and previously a Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.

He said: "The BBC is a world class broadcaster and requires effective governance and regulation. I look forward to conducting this review."

Sir David has been asked to make proposals on the model of governance and regulation of the BBC; the specific mechanisms of governance and regulation; and the way in which the BBC and the bodies that govern and regulate it engage with licence fee payers and the wider industry.

A BBC Trust spokesman said it welcomed the review.

He added: " As we have said before, the way the BBC is governed and regulated needs intelligent reform and an open public debate. We look forward to working with Sir David Clementi."

The report is expected to be submitted in early 2016.

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