The United Kingdom Government says it is committed to legislation later in the year to preserve the prominence of public service broadcasters. It will consider all options to ensure the future of the public broadcasting system, including the role of Channel 4 and licence fee funding for the BBC.
The cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its report on The Future of Public Service Broadcasting on 25 March and the provisional Government response has been published.
The Government notes that while we are seeing seismic shifts in the way people are discovering and viewing audiovisual programming, the ability of public service broadcasters to make programmes that appeal to the breadth of the population and united audiences across generations remains undisputed.
The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated the value of public service broadcasting in terms of disseminating essential information and addressing misinformation.
The Government will set out its position and next steps later this year. It says it is committed to legislating to implement the recommendations of Ofcom on prominence for public service channels. It will also look at all options for ensuring a successful and sustainable future for public service broadcasting, including the future role of Channel 4 and the appropriate model for the whole system.
The response says that the Government will also use the mid-term review of the BBC Charter to determine whether its governance and regulatory arrangements should be strengthened, noting “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”. It says that there are fundamental questions about the correct funding model, shape and structure of the BBC. With increasing international competition from Netflix and Amazon, it says the BBC must be equipped to step up to project British values and distinct quality programming with renewed vigour and ambition.
Media reports suggest that the Government is considering whether to sell Channel 4, which is publicly owned. This has been considered in the past, as has the possibility of merging it with the BBC, but the suggestion is that a decision on its future could come before the end of the year, with the aim of legislating to implement the outcome by the end of 2022. Options could include a flotation, sale to a private buyer, the sale of a minority stake, or moving to a mutual ownership model. However, the benefits and potential proceeds from a sale remain doubtful.
The future of public service broadcasting: Government Response to Committee’s Sixth Report of Session 2019–21 is published on the Parliament web site.