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    Monday, 26 March 2007

    Puttnam weighs in on BBC Jam decision

    Lord Puttnam has authored an interesting piece in the MediaGuardian on the decision of the BBC Trust to suspend BBC Jam, the online educational service offered by the BBC. He decries the deference shown - by the Trust and the EC Commission - to perceived commercial interests, and concludes that "the early signs are that the judgment calls of the Trust may become neurotically weighted toward the commercial impacts, at the expense of true public interest".

    Certainly, in the Trust's decision there was a presumption that the role being performed by the BBC was one that would - or at least may - be performed equally well by the private sector. The question was whether, nevertheless, it should be performed by the BBC as part of its public service remit. I'd imagine that the Trust's problem was that it hadn't conducted an assessment of the public value to be gleaned from market intervention of this type, and therefore couldn't simply explain to the EC Commission that the public service requirement in the Article 86(2) EC 'get out of jail card' was satisfied. Facing the risk that the BBC's activities may be found subsequently to have involved reliance on unlawful state aid, the Trust adopted a safety-first approach. It needn't have done this, but it is the precautionary approach. That said, it does have the ramifications outlined in Puttnam's article and my last post on this subject: loss of provision (at least in the short term), and potential harm to suppliers of content.

    At a deeper level, this comment speaks to an important development that is encapsulated within the new schemes of control introduced with the establishment of the BBC Trust. The site of debate regarding the extent of the public service remit has been both depoliticised and particularised, in that decisions will henceforth be taken on specific proposals internally by the Trust (albeit after three separate consultation exercises) . The performance of this task by the Trust must be closely scrutinised, and - irrespective of one's view on Puttnams's complaint - he must be applauded for paying attention.

    3 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    On this theme, comments made by Greg Dyke were reported in the MediaGuardian today to the effect that the BBC should never have commissioned Fame Academy when Pop Idol was already on ITV:

    "I still think it was a mistake for the BBC to make Fame Academy. It was too derivative. It's fine for ITV to nick programme ideas from the BBC, which they do all the time, but not for the BBC to take from ITV.

    "The justification for getting large sums of public money is to innovate.

    "Being popular and getting ratings is not enough for the BBC... It's not to say that entertainment has no value, but you must set out to give people something extra."

    Andrew Scott said...

    For a further interesting comment on the critical importance of the BBC Trust in defining the future parameters of the public service, see Will the BBC get Jam tomorrow, or will it go hungry from the Sunday Independent.

    Anonymous said...

    For two more comments regarding the impact of the BBC Jam decision inside and outside the BBC, see:
    Dozen face axe at BBC schools
    and
    Indies face BBC Jam fallout

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