Thursday, May 12, 2016

More as we get it...

The choreography suggests we've been marched up to the top of the hill in defence of the BBC as we know it - and Lord Hall will ask us to march at least half way down again today.

The taxi bookings between W1 and Westminster over the past four weeks would be an entertaining read. The lobbying, briefing and counter-briefing seems to have been frenetic, tense and almost non-stop. At the end of it all, podgy John will say, there, I told you - I love the BBC. Passionate Tony will say he's got some big wins. some more promises - and the BBC will be with you, funded largely by a licence fee, for the next 11 years.

On the BBC side of the bolero, some of what's left of BBC3 is moving to Birmingham, where local MPs and papers have been lobbying for programme-makers, not personnel officers, to fill The Mailbox. Ashley Highfield, Whittingdale adviser and leader of the local and regional paper lobby, has outmanoeuvred BBC News boss James Harding. After an initial, unwise offer of employing 100 staff to cover court and council reporting, the BBC now has to hand over £80m a year to pay for 150 staff who will be on the books of local papers. At a cost of £53k pa each (which presumably includes overheads, pension payments etc) these will supply both the BBC and papers with coverage they have managed without for two decades.  And, it may not be top-slicing, but the BBC will have to put around £50m of programme-making underspend into some sort of contestable fund for developing new British children's content.

In Lord Hall's wins, remember there's no move to decriminalise non-payment of the licence-fee; no move on BBC Worldwide, BBC Studios or the stake in UKTV; some promise that the process of setting a new licence fee deal in 2022 will be a process, not the now traditional mugging; and Tone and Rone can appoint as many non-execs as they care, if they really want a majority on the new unitary board. Some fine words will apparently give the DG, as editor-in-chief, freedom to make big editorial calls without waiting for a 13-person committee to opine.

Distinctiveness ?  Step forward Sharon White at Ofcom, who will be given a year to organise her new wing to monitor the BBC. Whittingdale will expect new service licences from April 2017 to hit the BBC with rebalanced "genre percentages" pushing Auntie to more education, documentaries, current affairs, etc leaving less money and time for quizzes and shiny floor shows.  Gotcha ?

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