Helen Goodman MP (Labour, Bishop Auckland) is the shadow media minister
Last week, it was announced George Entwistle will be the next director general of the BBC and, in many ways, it is a great time for him to take up the role.
The UK public currently have the highest positive impression of the BBC since records began and figures show that trust in the BBC has never been higher.
This has led some to question whether the BBC’s market share is too great and whether their privileged access to the licence fee is fair.
I do not believe the BBC should be treated like a commercial broadcaster – they are far more accountable to the public and 25% of TV programmes are made by independent producers. Nonetheless further steps to greater openness would be welcome.
Currently the power over what is shown on the BBC is in the hands of a few commissioning editors. Aside from either choosing to watch or not to watch a TV programme, the public have no say over what is shown on the BBC.
I would suggest to the new director general the BBC should look into the idea of ‘public commissioning’. This would essentially involve the BBC reserving a couple of hours per month on each channel and allowing the public to decide what subjects they would like programmes to cover, which have not been seen.
The second issue for the new director general to address is diversity. On representing women, ethnic minorities and regions outside London I believe the BBC still has much work to do.
While it is fantastic that the BBC has moved many of its operations to Salford its coverage still tends to be too London-centric. For example in the North East the annual Miners Gala that is taking place on Saturday will be a huge event, yet I would be very surprised if it gets more than the most minimal coverage.
The third challenge facing George Entwistle is the nettle that the BBC must grasp – pay inequality. Many people across the country rightly feel aggrieved that there licence fee goes towards paying the £2million-plus salaries of the likes of Graham Norton and Gary Lineker.
While it is encouraging to hear that salaries for the BBC’s stars are generally going down more progress must still be made. If George Entwistle can succeed in making the BBC more open, diverse and fairer organisation then questions about the justification for the licence fee should end.