The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

The BBC Charter and the Contestable Fund – Parliamentary Discussions

The House of Commons debated the BBC Charter renewal plans and the proposed Competitive Content Fund on October 18th.  It approved the draft Charter agreement between the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the BBC. 

Jayne Kirkham reports.

In a nutshell, the debate revealed general support for the Government White Paper (published 15 Sept 2016) on both sides of the house.

With the changes in government and opposition over the summer, there is now a new set of players - Karen Bradley replacing John Whittingdale as Secretary of State and Matt Hancock replacing Ed Vaizey as Digital and Culture Minister, and Tom Watson appointed Shadow Secretary of State.  There was a consensus of opinion on both sides and a commitment to work together constructively to secure the BBC's future.

This was particularly interesting and refreshing given the revelations in the debate of the differences of opinion amongst the ministers that had previously worked on this charter renewal, with Ed Vaizey, now free from ministerial collective responsibility promising to give John Whittingdale's proposed ' Competitive Content Fund' "a good kicking."

CMF supporters will know this proposed fund takes the £60million left over from Broadband roll-out, and will use it over three years to fund public service content in various under-served genres.  Tom Watson called for the money to be given back to the BBC to be put into diverse broadcasting such as children's.  Maria Eagle said that to create this funding pot would be "a retrograde step no matter what use it was put to."  Ed Vaizey said that such a small sum would be "neither fish nor fowl" and "would let broadcasters off the hook making public service content" and called for his ministerial successor, Matt Hancock, to ditch the fund.  Matt Hancock said that this pilot scheme would go ahead after a consultation process.

While there was no consensus over the fund, there was complete cross party support and commitment for greater diversity at the BBC and in all broadcasting.  Conservative Helen Grant spoke eloquently regarding diversity.  But what was really pleasing was that former shadow secretary of state Helen Goodman asked her if "given the diversity of the population under 18, she agreed that it is particularly important that we have a home-grown capacity for making children's programmes so that the programmes children watch reflect the communities in which they live?"  Mrs Grant stated she would be "extremely interested" to look into this further.

Unfortunately £20 million a year for a three year pilot, spread over several genres and with no guarantee of future funding, seems more like a gesture than an enthusiastic experiment. CMF will be responding robustly to the forthcoming consultation.

The full transcript of the House of Commons' debate is available here.

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)