In an open letter, published by the Guardian, the two former chairmen of the House of Lords select committee on communications said that while a royal charter “sounds very grand”, the idea that it guarantees independence is “utterly mistaken”.
“The government in power at the time of a charter review can do very much what it likes, secure in the knowledge that there is no bill that it has to get through parliament,” said the Lords.
“A prime example of this process was the creation of the BBC Trust, which was opposed by the House of Lords communications committee at the time and many other bodies on the grounds that it led to a fatal division at the top of the BBC.”
Fowler and Inglewood said they believe the BBC Trust to be failure that should now be abolished, but said that the point that is “too often missed” is that ministers working under the royal charter were able to act without any parliamentary check to create the Trust in the first place.
“The BBC should be set up (like Channel 4) as a statutory corporation by act of parliament and with a commitment to its independence. This would mean that any substantial change, like the creation of a BBC Trust, would have to be scrutinised and approved by parliament,” said the Lords.
“There should be one chairman and one board of directors at the top of the BBC… Changing the BBC in this way does not in any way exclude periodic external reviews of the corporation. The licence fee payer does, after all, finance the corporation. But full scale reviews should take place every 10 or 11 years.”
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