Ofcom is not equipped to regulate BBC, says trust director | Media | The Guardian
Alex Towers claims corporation is being held to a different standard on accuracy and impartiality than its commercial rivals

A BBC Trust director has said that Ofcom is not equipped to regulate the BBC because it is held to a “different standard of accuracy and impartiality” than the broadcasting watchdog applies to commercial rivals.

Alex Towers said that he is “agnostic” on exactly who should regulate the BBC – the BBC Trust, Ofcom, “OfBeeb” or a hybrid – but went on to make a case for why Ofcom’s current remit is not equipped to handle the corporation.

“The BBC is consistently held to a different standard on accuracy and impartiality than other broadcasters,” he said, speaking at a Westminster Media Forum on Thursday. “Even where there is currently parallel regulation between Ofcom and the [BBC] Trust, around editorial standards, there is no easy assumption that functions can simply be transferred from one to another.”

Towers went on to point out, for example, that Ofcom’s regulation of accuracy only applies to news and that about half of the 286 editorial standards cases that the BBC Trust dealt with last year would not have been considered by Ofcom under its current remit.

“The BBC Trust regulates all BBC content, broadcast and online, to exactly the same standards, whereas Ofcom does not regulate broadcasters’ online content in the same way that they regulate broadcast output,” he added. “It would seem perverse if independent regulation [of the BBC] led to a diminution of the standards that are applied to the BBC.”

The BBC Trust’s thinly-veiled critique of Ofcom prompted the broadcasting watchdog to offer a response pointing out it has the “same high standards” of regulation as the corporation’s governing body.

“Ofcom and the BBC both hold the same high standards for dealing with impartiality and accuracy issues,” said an Ofcom spokesman. “The BBC [Trust] applies the same standard, but to a broader range of programmes and services. These can range from news and current affairs, as well as its online content.”

The BBC Trust also published its response to the government’s consultation on the corporation’s charter review on Thursday.

In the 72-page submission, the trust argues that not everything that has gone wrong at the corporation should be blamed on its governance model.

“There are some important lessons to learn from some of the things that have gone wrong in the current charter period,” it said. “It is also vital not to lose the things that have worked well, and to recognise that not every error or mistake should be attributed to the governance model.”

Towers said that he was “never convinced” by the argument that the BBC Trust is both cheerleader and regulator, rather that it has been the corporation’s “conscience”.

The BBC Trust’s submission also argues that BBC Worldwide should not be sold or privatised and that a new set of public purposes should be drawn up, including specific commitments on distinctiveness and entertainment.