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Ofcom lays down new conditions

BBC forced to spend more outside London

BBC Scotland
BBC Scotland (photo by Terry Murden)

The BBC will be forced to spend more of its programming budget in Scotland and Northern Ireland under new measures set out by its new regulator.

The new Charter gives Ofcom a role in holding the BBC to account for its performance in delivering its mission and public purposes.

Ahead of its takeover of BBC regulation on Monday, Ofcom issued a report stating how it will introduce a minimum network quota for the nations.

It notes that the BBC has gradually increased its spending outside London from 2006, but in 2015 the figure fell below the 2014 levels for spend (53%) and hours (62%).

For the nations and regions Ofcom’s proposals for strengthening delivery include increasing quota levels “where appropriate”.

It says the BBC should ensure programming for the nations and regions “serves and creates content of interest and of relevance to the people living in the area for which the service is provided”.

Within Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland this should include a wide range of genres, including drama, comedy, sports and indigenous language broadcasting, it says.

In respect of BBC Parliament, the BBC must ensure that the time allocated to proceedings of the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Welsh Assembly is not less than 300 hours a year.

It is also proposing greater protection for arts and children’s programming, as well as a new diversity code.

It states: “To acknowledge that arts, music and religious programming are in decline across all public service broadcaster channels, and to recognise the key role the BBC’s provision plays, we propose increasing existing targets on TV for the BBC in these genres and are proposing some new peak-time obligations for arts, music and religious programming on BBC One and Two.

“We also expect the BBC to continue to play a vital role in the provision of programmes which explore subjects such as science, nature, business and history.”

The BBC will face sanctions, including – for the first time – the possibility of financial penalties, if it fails to meet its regulatory conditions.

The Charter and Agreement set out the clear distinction between the role of the new BBC Board, which is to govern the BBC, and the role of Ofcom, which is to act as the external regulator holding the BBC to account. Ofcom says it is critical to the success of the new regime that this distinction does not become blurred.

Under the Charter, Ofcom notes that the BBC must also “ensure that it provides adequate links to third party online material, particularly within its news stories, helping to provide its users with a wealth of information while also supporting other providers within the industry.”

Daily Business will be examining this condition in view of the BBC’s refusal to acknowledge online news in its regular promotion of news content in media titles.


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