I’ve had a lot of correspondence recently about the BBC. Its charter – which sets out how it is governed and funded - is currently being reviewed by the UK Government and people are understandably uneasy about what that could mean for public service broadcasting across the UK. To inform the review, the Government initiated a public consultation exercise last July. This closed in early October and since then we’ve heard nothing.
Last month I wrote to John Whittingdale, the Secretary of State for Culture, pressing for an answer on what is happening with the consultation. I have now received a response from one of the departmental Ministers and this is below.
As you can see, 190,000 people have responded, apparently the second largest ever response to any Government consultation. Frustratingly, there is no date for publication of the results although they make a commitment to do so. Responses will be published here https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/bbc-charter-review-public-consultation
By far the largest proportion of responses have reportedly been received via the campaign organised by 38 Degrees. Rather than welcoming this manifestation of 21st century democracy, Whittingdale speculated, unwisely in my opinion, that the responses received in this way might not be wholly representative of public opinion at large. This has given rise to anxieties that the Government will not be taking all responses into account. The BBC Chairperson herself has written to the Government seeking assurances that all responses received are being considered and I shall be doing the same myself.
That aside, my SNP colleagues and I are strongly committed to public service broadcasting. We want to see a vibrant, creative, diverse BBC which is editorially independent, and decentralised. Public service broadcasting which puts public benefit first, rather than serving purely commercial interests, is invaluable to our society. Without institutions such as the BBC, our broadcasting would be driven purely in the interests of advertisers and shareholders, losing much of the integrity and diversity that exists on our television screens. While I believe that the BBC must change and adapt – particularly in Scotland - it should not be put at risk by cuts to its resources or attempts by politicians to reduce its scale and importance. The proposals put forward by the Scottish Government aim to strengthen the BBC and allow it to flourish in Scotland and throughout the UK. A federal structure, devolving full editorial and commissioning control will allow the BBC to properly represent the nations and regions. A fairer share of the license fee, correcting the mismatch between the £335 million income for the BBC in Scotland and the £35 million spent on TV production in Scotland, will ensure that creative talent in our country is unlocked.