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BBC renews license

Gov't extends funding for 10 more years

The BBC won 10 more years of license fee funding on Tuesday as the government published its report on the pubcaster’s Royal Charter, the terms under which it operates.

The license fee funds all U.K. BBC services to the tune of around £3 billion ($5.1 billion) a year. But it may have to give a cash handout to commercially funded pubcaster Channel Four, to help it in the digital switchover.

The BBC also replaced its board of governors, which manages the pubcaster and oversees it, with an executive board and an external BBC Trust to better monitor its activities and represent the audience. Media regulator the Office of Communications also will have a greater role in overseeing the BBC.

However, there were few surprises in Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s pre-legislative White Paper, which sticks closely to a draft first published a year ago.

The good news for viewers is that the BBC has been ordered “to continue to take fun seriously.”

“We do not subscribe to the idea that public service broadcasting should be confined to the ‘worthy,’ ” the government said.

But it warned the BBC not to “chase ratings through derivative or copycat programming.”

The fact that the government has endorsed the BBC’s role as national entertainer will be welcomed by management but will disappoint rivals,such as paybox BSkyB, which would like to see the pubcaster’s programs become more high-minded.

A spokesman for BSkyB said: “The BBC white paper represents a missed opportunity to reassure license fee payers that they are getting genuine value for money. That can only be done if people have confidence that the BBC … is not wasting public money on launching services that the private sector is already providing.”

Last year’s green paper, a more consultative document, suggested the pubcaster should avoid bidding wars with commercial rivals. But there appears to be no similar advice in the white paper.

Significantly, it takes a more relaxed attitude to the BBC bidding for U.S. shows.

BBC director general Mark Thompson said the white paper was “a massive vote of confidence in the BBC and the BBC’s central role in British life.”

But Jowell’s opposition in Blighty’s House of Commons, conservative shadow Culture Minister Hugo Swire, said the white paper did not protect the interests of private media outfits.