15 Jul 2015

Rona Fairhead: ‘interference has chilling effect on BBC’

BBC Trust Chairman Rona Fairhead says any perception that there is “political interference” in the way the corporation is run risks “having a chilling effect” on it.

Speaking to Channel 4 News Political Correspondent Michael Crick after the publication of the BBC’s annual report yesterday, Ms Fairhead said she had been “unhappy” with the process that led to the chancellor deciding in last week’s budget that the corporation should fund TV licences for the over-75s, rather than the general taxpayer.

But she said that “in terms of the outcome, I think the framework is a framework that, as the chancellor said, gives us a long-term sustainable future, which I think is positive”.

‘Dereliction of duty’

Asked if she should have resigned in protest at the way the changes had been made, she said “resigning would have been a total dereliction of duty” and that the BBC had fought to “get a good settlement in the circumstances that we had”.

Ms Fairhead said the corporation would continue to lobby for protection for licence fee payers. “What I think this new settlement means is that the BBC now does have control of all of its sources of revenue from the licence fee without any picking up government cost ,and I think that what we will be urging for the next charter is that in future there will be clear protection for licence fee payers, which will prevent government doing so without due process, which should include public scrutiny and some sort of parliamentary process.”

‘Absolutely critical’

On the subject of political interference, she said: “I think that the independence of the BBC is absolutely critical. For the BBC to be able to hold people to account in an impartial, objective way, which is what the public want, it needs to be independent, and I think that any risk of any perception that there is governmental interference or political interference has the risk of having a chilling effect on the organisation and preventing it doing one of its core duties.”