06 April, 2017
Ofcom becomes the BBC's first external regulator
On 3 April 2017, Ofcom became the BBC's first external regulator. As required under the BBC’s Royal Charter, Ofcom has developed an 'Operating Framework' for the BBC, covering regulation of the BBC’s performance, compliance with content standards and impact on competition.
Content standards: The new Charter gives Ofcom responsibility for regulating the content standards of the BBC’s television, radio and on-demand programmes. Ofcom will in due course publish procedures detailing how it will handle complaints and provide its view on whether the BBC has observed relevant editorial guidelines for its online material.
Competition: The Charter and Agreement place duties on Ofcom to consider the impacts of the BBC’s activities on fair and effective competition. A document providing a general overview to Ofcom's approach to BBC competition regulation has been issued.
Performance: Ofcom is tasked with holding the BBC to account in relation to its output and services, using the range of regulatory tools. Ofcom must also set an operating licence for the BBC, and measures to assess the BBC’s performance. The licence must set out the enforceable regulatory conditions that Ofcom considers appropriate to ensure the BBC fulfils its duties. Meanwhile, a draft ‘operating licence’, has been published, setting clear requirements on the BBC that are achievable and affordable within existing licence fee funding, and which will uphold the quality of the BBC’s programmes.
Enforcement: Under the Charter, Ofcom must enforce compliance by the BBC with specified requirements. These include content standards in BBC programmes, competition requirements, and other requirements set out in the Agreement.
So far, the only rules of the Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code applicable to the BBC were those about the protection of children, harm and offence, crime, disorder, hatred and abuse, religion, and fairness and privacy. Starting from 3 April, the remaining rules, e.g. these on accuracy and impartiality, elections and referendums, and commercial references in programmes, became also applicable to the BBC.
The BBC Trust ceased when Ofcom took on responsibility for the BBC’s regulation on 3 April. The governance functions carried out by the BBC Trust moved to the new BBC unitary Board.
Against this background, Ofcom is currently consulting on its proposals for: the BBC operating licence, and the process for amending this in future; and Ofcom’s performance measures, and the process for amending these in future. The consultation will be closed on 17 July.
During 2016, the Government ran a review process for setting a new Charter for the BBC. An independent review to look at how the BBC is governed and regulated was commissioned by the Government and, in March 2016, concluded that regulation of the BBC should pass to Ofcom. The Government confirmed its decision that Ofcom should regulate the BBC in a White Paper published in May 2016.
A new BBC Royal Charter for the period 2017-2027 was published by the Government on 15 December 2016, together with an accompanying Agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Charter and the Agreement together set out how the BBC will operate in the new Charter period.
Source: Ofcom Website