There are those who say that the BBC is not sufficiently “accountable”. Well, the new chairman of the trustees, Lord (Chris) Patten has had a busy week explaining how it works, first to the Lords Select Committee on Communications, and then to the AllParty BBC Group. The usual issues were raised: how can the trustees govern the BBC as well as regulate it; how can young people connect with news when they no longer watch and listen in the conventional way, but pick and choose what they want to see on their computers; why should everyone have to pay the licence fee; what economies can the BBC make while still preserving the World Service; should the National Audit Office be permitted to decide for itself which areas of the BBC to investigate; why is “talent” paid so much?
Lord Patten affirmed his agreement with Lord Reith – the BBC is there to inform, entertain and educate. There are two broad answers to the issues raised. One is that the precise differences between regulation and governance matter less than having the right people in place determined to preserve the independence of the BBC and its mission. Second, that everyone benefits from the BBC regardless of how much they view or listen, because of its contribution to training for the media, education, music, and drama, and its influence overseas. I am particularly concerned about applying value for money tests to the World Service. The World Service is sometimes the only source of accurate news for people abroad. It enables Britain to punch above its weight. The World Service may be expensive to provide, but it is priceless to receive.