Licence fee stays and iPlayer loophole closed as BBC faces outside regulation for first time

  • Key points: BBC must say how much it pays anyone earning over £450,000
  • Licence fee remains, with inflation-linked rises until 2021
  • You now need a TV licence to watch just the iPlayer
  • New requirement for “distinctive content” rather than just chasing ratings
  • New board, with most members independent of Government
  • Ofcom takes over as regulator
  • More competition from independents for in-house producers
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THE BBC is to be regulated by an external organisation for the first time in its 90-year history, the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has announced.

The change is one of a number of proposals contained in a long-awaited White Paper on the BBC’s future, which also includes a rise in the licence fee and a plan to charge people to watch programmes on the iPlayer.

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Independent media regulator Ofcom will become the official regulator of the BBC, replacing the internal BBC Trust.

The BBC’s charter will also be renewed every 11 years, rather than 10 years at present.

“The BBC is a world-class broadcaster and one of our country’s greatest institutions. Our plans will mean that the BBC will keep making the great programmes we love and will continue to thrive in the future,” a Government source said.

A key reform laid out in the White Paper is the formation of what the Government is calling a “strong unitary board for the BBC”.

The BBC will be responsible for appointing at least “half of the board members” and Ofcom will be the external regulator of the corporation.

This change was one of the key suggestions made by Sir David Clementi last year as he detailed the results of an independent review into the way the BBC was governed.

Speculation has also been rife about whether or not Mr Whittingdale will force the BBC to publish how much it pays top talent earning more than £450,000.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale  after making his statement in the Commons on the BBC's future.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale after making his statement in the Commons on the BBC's future.

Another area of contention between the BBC and Government is the question of “top-slicing” the licence fee, which would see the BBC forced to hand over a portion of the licence fee to commercial rivals in areas such as children’s television, according to The Guardian.

The new paper states that the licence fee will increase in line with inflation for five years, meaning the current annual fee of £145.50 will rise from 2017 until 2022. Coupled with this change, the Government also plans to introduce a new process for determining what the licence fee cost is every five years.

Speaking in the House of Commons as he made the announcement, Mr Whittingdale said the BBC would write a commmitment to diversity into its Charter for the first time.

He said the BBC would be committed to “BME backgrounds and from the nations and regions less well served”.

He said: “Over the next Charter period we want the BBC to be a leader in diversity.”

Labour’s shadow culture minister Maria Eagle said Mr Whittingdale had clearly been overuled by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as the reforms had been watered down from his original plans.

“In large part he has not got his way,” she said.

“We know the Secretary of State is extremely hostile to the BBC. He wants it diminished in size.”

She said she welcomed the length of the Charter is to be 11 years but was concerned about a brake clause that reduces it to five and a half years and could undermine stability.

She said the new governance structure should ensure editorial and financial independence and the White Paper does not give assurance of that.

She said: “On governance, it is simply unacceptable for the majority of the unitary board which will have major influence over output, and therefore editorial decisions, to be appointed by the Government.

“This board will run the BBC despite what he says, it will have influence over output and therefore over editorial decisions.

“His suggestion that these proposals enhance independence of the BBC are hard to reconcile with reality.”