BBC Trust chair defends pubcaster role

BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead has mounted a strong case aimed at promoting the BBC’s importance to the British creative industry.

Rona FairheadSpeaking to the Institute of Directors yesterday, Fairhead (pictured) said European countries such as Portugal and Italy that have “weaker” public service broadcasters than the UK also had weaker creative economies.

“That’s why the BBC’s role in supporting economic growth is so important: creating ecosystems supporting highly specialist creative talent and projecting the outcome on the national – and often the global – stage.

“Think of the Natural History Unit in Bristol, adding cutting-edge technology and high-end production skills to make programmes that sell around the world, or think of children’s television. Without the BBC there would be no British-made children’s television to speak of. No CBeebies. No CBBC.”

Fairhead cited figures that suggest 49% of on-screen talent at the BBC’s commercial rival ITV had begun their careers at the pubcaster, and said the organisation had injected £2.2 billion (US$3.3 billion) into the UK’s creative industries through IP investment, purchases from suppliers and spend on employment and skills.

The BBC Trust, which acts as the BBC’s watchdog, has come under fire this week, as debate around the future governance of the BBC intensifies.

BBC director general Tony Hall this week called for an external regulator to ensure a more-independent BBC is safeguarded from government interference.

The BBC has been ravaged by a series of cuts forced upon it by the UK’s Conservative government, while a behind-closed-doors Charter agreement has been widely criticised.

The BBC is also planning to launch BBC Studios, which would allow the corporation to produce programming for other broadcasters for the first time.

Fairhead said changes to the BBC’s structure should be “evolution, rather than revolution”.

“There is next-to-no public appetite for radical change in the BBC,” she added. “People want the BBC to be nurtured, rather than subject to root and branch reform.

“Changes should be specific and targeted, rather than sweeping and grand. The global achievements of the UK’s creative industries are a Darwinian success story in which the BBC has made a pivotal contribution. We should continue to help that success story evolve, not change the whole environment it has thrived in.”

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