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U.K. Government Mulls Changes to BBC Governance, Regulation

LONDON — David Clementi, who was commissioned by the U.K. government to review the governance and regulation of the BBC, has recommended that media regulator Ofcom should take over responsibility for the regulation of the publicly owned broadcaster, and so ending 94 years of BBC self-regulation. Clementi also proposed that the network should be governed by a single BBC board, with a majority of non-executive directors.

Clementi, who is the former chairman of Virgin Money and Prudential, and was a deputy governor of the Bank of England, said that the present model, in which the BBC Trust board oversees both the regulation and governance of the broadcaster, should be jettisoned. “The BBC Trust model is flawed: It conflates governance and regulatory functions within the Trust, which leads to confusion about the Trust’s role,” his report states.

He also criticized the present two-tier board structure, in which BBC Trust board looks after strategic issues and the BBC executive board is in charge of operational issues. “This distinction on paper breaks down in the face of events,” he writes. “It is inevitable that there will be overlaps, and gaps, between the operation of the two boards.” A single-tier board is preferable, Clementi says.

The new BBC board would be responsible for protecting the interests of license fee payers. The broadcaster is funded chiefly by the license fee, which anyone with a TV set in the U.K. must purchase.

Clementi said that regulatory functions should be carried out by a body independent of the BBC. “A clear distinction between the corporation (the BBC), which needs to comply with the regulatory obligations placed upon it, and the regulator itself would provide greater transparency about roles and would be in the public interest,” he states.

Clementi concluded that the existing media regulator, Ofcom, should oversee regulation of the BBC. “The strongest, and simplest, argument in favor of the Ofcom model is that Ofcom is already the public service regulator for the United Kingdom’s broadcasting industry. It already has regulatory powers in respect of the BBC, already has considerable experience in almost all of the regulatory issues that the BBC gives rise to, and has during its 12 years of existence built up a significant reputation for dealing with competition issues which are likely to come increasingly to the fore. Ofcom has scale and credibility. It would be a strong regulator to match a strong BBC.”

In a statement, BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead said: “Sir David Clementi proposes a strong BBC board and a strong external regulator — a change we have argued for. It will be important to get the details right, and we now want to work with the government to ensure roles are clear, the structure is effective and the BBC’s independence protected.”

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