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Running the BBC

Ichiro Motozawa writes:

"The debate around public service broadcasting is a live issue across Europe and in the rest of the world too,” Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer for the BBC, started her argument, citing the several recent examples of political interference in Europe. Since her appointment to the BBC Executive Board in 2007, she has had responsibility for the Policy, Legal, Strategy and Distribution functions and all the major infrastructure projects including digital switchover.

How does the BBC fit in? During the Iraq War, the BBC was in a good position to defend itself against constant pressure from the British government and justify its independence to licence fee payers. Thomson said, “In Britain, the BBC has occupied public space” in the tradition of public libraries, museums and art galleries, and national parks. "It is publicly funded but it is also independent and guaranteed to be independent. It is for the public, not for the government." "In that public space, universal and free access to everyone is essential. The other key point is to treat the audience as citizens as well as consumers," she continued.

The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter, which comes from the Head of the State through public debate in Parliament and on the recommendation of the government. The current Charter renewed in 2006 funds the BBC via a license fee and for the first time defines six public purposes that the BBC is here for. The BBC also has a supervisory body, the BBC Trust, which is in charge of representing license fee payers, the BBC’s third highest ranking officer explained.

According to Thomson, it is crucial and pressing to define the public space today partly because the Internet is bringing the print media and the broadcasting media into the same space. "If the BBC is running a service, you look at a balancee between what is the impact on the market on one side, what is the public value on the other," she clearly stated. Public value must be tested.

The BBC has to develop trust with its audience. As Thomson said, "The best protector against the pressure from government is public trust." The license fee as a direct relationship with the payer is a key factor. The BBC began to publish the expenses and salaries of the top managers. Transparency and openness is as part of being accountable to licence fee payers. She emphasized, "Keeping public support is absolutely the key."

For the future, "the programmes have to have quality which no one else is doing, with delivery via different platforms," whether they might be linear viewing around a television set, individualized iPlayer usage, or an IPTV service offering a web-TV as part of the BBC-led Project Canvas. The BBC's Chief Operating Officer stressed, "It is important to remember that without the ability to deliver brilliant programmes and delight audiences, we would be lost."