At the heart of the BBC’s new Charter – due to be formally adopted within the next fortnight – is that the new ‘independent’ court of appeal for complaints against the BBC will be the Ofcom Content Board.
The end of the BBC being totally its own judge and jury on these matters is supposed to herald the dawn of a new, more rigorous impartiality regime.
A criticism of the BBC Trustees in this respect was that far too many of them were ex-BBC employees, such as (in the current line-up) Mark Damazer, the former Controller of Radio 4, and Richard Ayre, a former Controller of BBC editorial standards.
So how does this compare with the Ofcom line-up? Astonishingly, nine of the 13 board members have spent several years of their careers in direct employment by the Corporation, and one, Mary Anne Sieghart, is currently paid by them for semi-regular work as a presenter.
This is a complete list of the BBC connections of the Content Board:
Aled Eirug was, for 14 years, BBC Wales’s head of news and current affairs and a member of BBC Wales’s Board of Management.
Zahera Harb is now a university lecturer in journalism at City University, but earlier in her career as a journalist in the Middle East was a correspondent for the BBC Arabic service. Her first job in the UK was at Cardiff University, which has strong links to the BBC, and is commissioned by them to do most of the Trustees’ ‘impartiality’ reports.
Andrew Colman was, for 13 years, head of news and current affairs for BBC Northern Ireland, and was editor of all BBCNI’s election programmes between 1986 and 1998.
David Levy worked for the BBC from 1982 until 2007, and from 2000-2007 was Controller, Public Policy, which involved him leading the Charter renewal negotiations. He was Head of Policy Development and chief adviser and head of European Policy (1995-2000),
James Thickett was Controller of Business Strategy at the BBC, responsible for ‘all the BBC’s performance and measurement functions’, as well as leading editorial and business process change across the organisation. He was involved in the BBC’s Charter review process and Greg Dyke’s ‘Making it Happen’ culture change project.
Janey Walker, currently Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors of Brighton University, began her career at the BBC and worked there as a journalist from 1982-94. She then joined Channel 4, where she became managing editor for commissioning.
Nick Pollard began his broadcasting career in BBC Television in 1977 and worked there for around five years before joining ITN and then Sky News, where he became Head of News. He led the inquiry into the BBC’s handling of the Newsnight investigations of Jimmy Savile (appointed by the BBC).
Robin Foster, an economist, worked at the BBC from 1993 to c.2001 in ‘senior strategy positions’ and was responsible for developing its online and digital channel services.
Andrew Chitty has worked in software production at the BBC and has produced BBC2 programmes. More recently, he participated as a board member in David Puttnam’s report A Future for Public Service Television: Content and Platforms in a Digital World. This strongly defended the licence fee.
Mary Anne Sieghart, the journalist, has worked principally on newspapers, but also extensively for the BBC as presenter of programmes such as Radio 4’s Start the Week, Profile, One to One and Beyond Westminster.
Those who do not appear to have employment links with the BBC are:
Tony Close, who is currently Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards. He joined Ofcom in 2003, and before that worked for the Broadcasting Standards Commission (which Ofcom superseded). There is no trace of his earlier career.
Professor Philip Schlesinger holds the Chair in Cultural Policy at Glasgow University. He has written about using communications to expand the legitimacy of the EU. During the Scottish referendum on independence, he warned that an independent Scottish broadcaster (envisaged by the SNP) would be inferior to the BBC.
Dame Lynne Brindley is a former CEO of the British Library (2000-12), and spent her career in that sphere. A connection with the BBC is that in 2009, she signed a wide-ranging deal with the BBC involving collaboration over digital rights and access to archives. Roly Keating, a former BBC executive, succeeded Dame Brindley as CEO of the British Library.
Overall, therefore, the Content Board has ‘BBC’ etched through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Looking at the various affiliations of the members – for example Andrew Chitty’s membership of David Puttnam’s group or Zahera Harb’s board seat on the so-called the Ethical Journalism Network (which advocates that the Syrian war was caused in part by climate change) – it is not hard to see that they are likely to share the same biased mindset as their former BBC colleagues.
Joe, Smithies, a spokesman for Ofcom, said: “Ofcom is scrupulously independent and our track record shows that. Members of the Content Board, which plays an advisory role for Ofcom, have experience across the broadcasting industry including Sky, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and S4C.”
Mr Smithies also pointed out that James Thickett has now left the Content Board. He has been replaced by Graham Mather, who, he says, has not ever worked at the BBC.