Who owns the BBC, and how does it operate? – The Indian Express

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has recently been facing some heat after the release of its documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’, with the Indian government calling the film a “propaganda piece” and accusing the broadcaster of having a “colonial mindset”.
Last week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak came out in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that he doesn’t agree with the documentary’s characterisation of him.
Founded on October 18, 1922, the BBC was earlier a private corporation, known as the British Broadcasting Company, in which only British manufacturers were allowed to hold shares. Initially, the company struggled to gain a foothold in the industry. However, its fortunes turned around during the 1926 general strike. The BBC’s coverage of the crisis was widely appreciated by the British population, which gave it a lifeline.
Later the same year, a parliament committee recommended that the private company should be replaced by a public, Crown-chartered organisation, the British Broadcasting Corporation. This made the company ultimately answerable to Parliament but it continued to enjoy independence regarding its activities.
To date, the BBC operates under the Royal Charter, an instrument of incorporation granted by the ruling monarch, which makes it mandatory for the company to obtain a licence from the country’s home secretary. The charter has to be renewed every 10 years and the current one will run until December 31, 2027.
The charter also illustrates the objectives of the broadcast company. It states that the BBC “should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world.”
Till 2017, the company was regulated by the BBC Trust, its executive board, and a government-approved regulatory authority, called Ofcam. However, after an independent review in 2016, the trust was abolished as it was found to be “flawed”. In the aftermath, while a BBC Board was set up to govern the company, Ofcam was given the sole responsibility of regulating it. Meanwhile, the executive board oversees the day-to-day operations.
Most of the funding of the BBC comes from an annual television fee charged to British entities with equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts. Apart from this, it also gets income from its commercial subsidiaries — BBC Studios and BBC Studioworks.
In 2022, the company suffered a major setback when the British government announced a freeze on the annual television fee for the next two years, which prevented the BBC from adjusting the cost according to inflation. Not only this, the government also said that by 2027, it will abolish the fee completely.
A report published in The Guardian said, “Although the BBC will continue to receive £3.2 billion a year in licence fee income, the costs of making its programmes are increasing rapidly due to rising inflation and competition from the likes of Netflix. As a result, the corporation will have to make hundreds of millions of pounds in spending cuts in order to balance its books.”
As mentioned before, the BBC has complete freedom to conduct its activities without any intervention from Parliament. However, from time to time, it has been at loggerheads with the lawmakers, especially the conservatives, over several issues.
For years, the right wing has accused it of having a “liberal” and “left-wing bias”. During the tenure of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, many of her party members publicly denounced the BBC for “being biassed against her”. It also faced criticism for doing an “anti-Brexit” coverage of the 2016 referendum.
In 2020, when Tim Davie took over as the Director-General of the company, he promised to deal with the issue and asked the more opinionated staff to either change or quit.
In a statement to the BBC employees, he said, “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”
Two years later, Richard Sharp, the BBC chairman, also acknowledged that “the BBC does have a liberal bias”. Notably, before assuming his position as the company’s chairman, Sharp was Sunak’s advisor.
However, it isn’t only the conservatives who have criticised the broadcaster. During the 2019 general elections, supporters of former Labour Party Chief Jeremy Corbyn accused the BBC of favouring Boris Johnson.
The Left has also raised concerns regarding homophobia and transphobia within the company. In 2006, a University of Leeds study found that the BBC is “institutionally homophobic” towards “lesbians and gays, references to them, or related issues”. In 2020, 150 people, including members of Parliament, signed a letter which said the BBC had engaged in “institutional discrimination” and failed to do balanced reporting about transgender issues.
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Alind ChauhanThe write is a journalist at The Indian Express…. read more


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