Gunning for the BBC?

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Has the public consultation to find out how the public feels about the BBC been  designed  so that the fewest people possible will respond to it?

The consultation is embedded in an 88-page document  with a two-page glossary of terms – (you can go straight to the questions online, if you prefer). I imagine it’s pretty impenetrable to anyone not familiar with the jargon of the broadcasting industry. I worked at the BBC for five years and Channel 4 for three and I found it pretty hard going. I suspect that many people who want to express their views on whether the BBC should or shouldn’t be doing Strictly, or how much they would be prepared to pay (or not) for Radio 4 will look, perplexed, at some of the questions they’re being asked and give up and do something else instead:

1   How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve?

2   Which elements of universality are most important for the BBC?

3   Should Charter Review formally establish a set of values for the BBC?

10  How should the system of content production be improved through reform of quotas or more radical options?

14  How should the BBC’s commercial operations, including BBC Worldwide, be reformed?

15  How should the current model of governance and regulation for the BBC be reformed?

16  How should Public Value Tests and Service Licences be reformed and who should have the responsibility for making these decisions?

18  How should the relationship between Parliament, Government, Ofcom, the National Audit Office and the BBC work?  What accountability structures and expectations, including financial transparency and spending controls, should apply?

19 Should the existing approach of a 10-year Royal Charter and Framework Agreement continue?

I put some random sections of the consultation document through the Gunning Fog  index. GF is an academic tool which measures the readability of a piece of writing. The people at GF estimate that:

Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

As a rough rule of thumb I assume that the index relates to the years of formal education a reader will need to have had in order to understand something, so a piece of text with an index of 12 should be clear to an A-level student. The sections I analysed came back with an average GF index of 14.8, one section came in at 15.5. Either DCMS doesn’t know, or doesn’t care that the public consultation about the single most important cultural institution in the country may only be understood by people with a degree-level education who  know what accountability structures are.

I have additional worries about what will happen to the consultation documents when they are submitted. Will they be read (not a flippant question – I have sat in Whitehall meeting rooms with piles of unread consultation documents in a corner because no-one had the time to read them all). Who is going to analyse responses which will come in in the form of several thousand online free text boxes as well as via email and in the post? What kind of common measurement standards will they apply? And let’s not even mention the hanging jury which seems to have been assembled to assess the Beeb’s future options. For the time being let’s just concentrate on getting the public’s voices heard.

The Save Our BBC campaign has written to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale asking him to make sure that a Plain English Crystal Marked version of the document be produced. You could do the same,  or you could write with your general feelings about the BBC (good or bad, just have your say), and you could copy the letter to your MP (find him/her at They Work for You). Ask them to do whatever they can to make sure that the BBC gets a fair crack of this particularly dangerous whip.

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