Elements of new BBC charter, set out in the White Paper in May, will be delayed due to their complexity and the political outcome of the UK’s Brexit referendum

The government’s controversial White Paper called for fundamental changes to the way the broadcaster is regulated and governed. This includes the abolishment of the BBC Trust and the creation of a unitary board to run the BBC, with watchdog duties being given to independent media regulator Ofcom.

Despite the BBC broadly agreeing to the White Paper’s proposals, severe criticisms were made at the paper’s proposal to allow the government to appoint six of the unitary board’s fourteen directors, fuelling fears for the organisation’s ongoing independence.

Yet reports in The Financial Times and The Guardian suggest that transference of regulatory and management powers will not occur as swiftly as first thought, with the Trust potentially  continuing its work far into 2017.

Ofcom already regulates the rest of the UK’s predominantly commercial broadcast industry as well as the BBC’s market impact. Yet there are concerns that the regulator lacks the experience to ensure that the BBC meets its expectations as a PSB, especially in terms of impartiality and treating the audience as citizens rather than consumers. One of its more complicated new roles will be to measure and quantify the “distinctiveness” of the BBC’s content as outlined in the recent White Paper whilst also regulating the broadcaster’s substantial online presence.

Such an expanded role will require up to 40 new staff and despite there being no firm deadline for Ofcom to start its new role, the complexities of becoming the BBC’s first external regulator may push the transference to April 2017.

As for the appointment of a unitary board, it looks like this too will take time following the political upheaval of the UK’s EU referendum in June.

The White Paper’s main driver, the then Culture Secretary John Whittingdale, has been removed by new Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of his proposed publication of the charter’s first draft this summer. This has now been postponed until September, with parliament debating the draft in October.

The delays, however, do not mean business as usual for the BBC and its board, with a limbo period being detrimental to any organisation. BBC Trust Chair Rona Fairhead told The Guardian: “I hope if there is an extension [to the January deadline] it would be short because we are in a position of uncertainty and as an organisation you want certainty”.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We’re currently discussing a transition timetable with the government, BBC and BBC Trust. As the government has recognised, these are fundamental changes that will require time to implement, given their complexity and the need for a smooth transition.”

By Kristian Porter

Thumbnail image: Davide D’Amico/Creative Commons