U.K. Government Warns BBC After Princess Diana Fiasco

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The U.K. government has warned the BBC that it needs to improve its culture in order to restore the public’s trust in the corporation in the wake of its handling of the infamous 1995 Princess Diana interview and its lingering aftermath. The government has also demanded that streamers operating in the country provide viewing data.

The government’s comments are in response to a report on the the future of public service broadcasting in the U.K. by a House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that was published in March.

Addressing the recent scandal around the Princess Diana “Panorama” interview by Martin Bashir, where an independent enquiry by Lord Dyson found the corporation’s conduct wanting, the government response did not mince its words.

“It is the government’s belief that the BBC must act fast to restore trust, and reassure the country that it will shine a light on any other areas falling short of the high standards we rightly expect from it. The BBC needs to improve its culture to ensure this never happens again and that means a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion,” the response stated.

“The government notes that the BBC can occasionally succumb to a ‘we know best’ attitude that is detached both from criticism and the values of all parts of the nation that it serves, and believes cultural change must be a focus for the director general and new chair on the back of the Dyson report,” the response added. “We will use the mid-term Charter review to determine whether the governance and regulatory arrangements should be strengthened.”

The government stance on the BBC is an extension of what Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden expressed in May.

The government response also notes that the relationship between Public Service Broadcasters (PSBs) and streamers are “not straightforward,” especially when content created by PSBs are carried on streaming services. U.K. media regulator Ofcom is conducting a separate review of PSBs and the government has called for streamers to voluntarily provide them with viewing data to assist their evaluation.

The committee had called for streamers’ workforce data to be provided, something that the PSBs are statutorily required to do, but private companies are not. The government said that it “does not propose to amend the statutory framework, given the need to balance the burden of regulation on enterprise, including small and medium-sized firms.”

Elsewhere, the government also addressed the issue of license fee evasion. The license fee, which helps to keep the BBC commercial-free, makes up the bulk of the public broadcaster’s income, which, in the financial year 2019/20 was £3.5 billion ($4.6 billion). The license fee currently costs £157.50 ($208.6) per household per year.

Not paying the fee is currently a criminal offence and the government said it was “considering decriminalisation of TV licence evasion and other possible reforms to the licence fee system to increase fairness and proportionality within the broader context of the ongoing licence fee settlement.”

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