BBC regulation

23 January 2017

Under a new BBC Royal Charter, Ofcom will become the BBC's first external regulator in April 2017.

Over the next few months, Ofcom will put together an 'Operating Framework' for the BBC, covering performance, content standards and competition.

This page gathers together consultations, news releases and other useful information relating to Ofcom and the BBC. It covers the period from September 2016 when the draft Charter and Agreement were published, until 3 April 2017 when the transfer of regulation becomes effective.

Ofcom’s preparations for regulation of the BBC PDF, 99.8 KB

Paratoadau Ofcom ar gyfer rheoleiddio'r BBC PDF, 163.5 KB

The new Charter gives Ofcom responsibility for regulating the content standards of the BBC’s television, radio and on-demand programmes.

Ofcom must set rules for the content of BBC  programmes so that BBC viewers and listeners are appropriately protected. The  BBC will be required to follow the rules in our Broadcasting Code.

We will also publish procedures explaining how we will handle complaints about BBC programmes, and how we will conduct our investigations and sanctions.

Ofcom will also publish procedures detailing how we will provide our view on whether the BBC has observed relevant editorial guidelines for its online material.

Activity so far...

  • Consultation: Broadcasting Code Review: Preparing for Ofcom’s new  responsibilities for regulating the BBC. In this  consultation we set out our proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Code (other  than for the areas listed above) so that it can apply in full to BBC broadcasting services, and where relevant to BBC on-demand programme services.  This consultation is currently open until 9 February 2017, and we plan to publish a statement on the outcome in March 2017.

At the same time as consulting  on the new proposed BBC procedures, Ofcom has published a Review of procedures for handling content standards and broadcast licensing investigations and sanctions. In this  consultation we set out proposed changes to our current investigation and sanction procedures for other broadcasters and notified on-demand service providers, to ensure consistency, where appropriate, with our proposed BBC procedures. This consultation is also open until 6 March 2017, and we plan to publish our statement before 3 April 2017.

The BBC’s role is to act in the public interest and serve all audiences with content which informs, educates and entertains.  To do so, it provides impartial news and information, together with high-quality and distinctive output and services. In resetting the BBC’s Mission and Public Purposes, the Government has confirmed the valuable contribution the BBC makes to the UK and to people’s lives. The Government has also made clear that it expects the BBC to do more in certain areas, in order to justify its unique funding arrangements and privileged status.

The UK has a successful broadcasting sector, sustained by a competitive media landscape of which the BBC is a central part. The BBC’s programmes and services are integral to the wide range of high-quality and varied content that UK audiences enjoy. The BBC will continue to play this key role by delivering against its new Mission and Public Purposes.

The Charter and Agreement recognise that the BBC needs to be able to succeed, including in new and innovative ways, such that it not only meets the Mission and Public Purposes, but also considers potential impacts on competition in the sector as a whole. Ofcom also has a role to protect fair and effective competition in the areas that the BBC operates. Therefore, both the BBC Board and Ofcom have obligations to consider the impacts of the BBC’s activities on competition.

We believe competition is good for audiences as it can increase choice and stimulate investment and innovation. Competition can also create incentives for business to deliver services more cost effectively.

As a large publicly-funded organisation, the BBC inevitably has an impact on competition in the wider media market. It may have a positive effect by stimulating demand or encouraging sector wide innovation, for example. But in fulfilling its objectives, the BBC may also harm the ability of others to compete effectively.

Competition concerns may arise if the BBC’s public service activities are considered to be crowding out competition or deterring others from investing or innovating. There is also a risk that without appropriate safeguards the BBC’s public funding could be used to subsidise or benefit its commercial subsidiaries by offering services on favourable terms. This could distort competition by giving those commercial subsidiaries an unfair competitive advantage. In relation to distribution, there is a risk that competitors may not be able to develop compelling consumer offerings if they are unable to include BBC content in their services, or are given access to it on unfair or discriminatory terms.

Our role is to ensure that such concerns are properly considered.  We will look at market impacts alongside any public benefits, taking into account the BBC’s need to fulfil its Mission and promote its Public Purposes, and the need to protect fair and effective competition.

Draft procedures and guidance

We have published four consultations relating to different areas of BBC activity that could lead to competition concerns. These documents set out the tools we will use to protect fair and effective competition in the areas that the BBC operates. They will form part of Ofcom’s Operating Framework for the BBC, and we expect to add to them as our work progresses.

Continued on Competition.

Ofcom is tasked with holding the BBC to account in relation to its output and services, using the range of regulatory tools at our disposal. We will consult on how these tools will fit together.

Activity so far...

No publications yet

Still to come...

  • Consultation: How we will set and administer the operating licence regime for the BBC – We plan to consult in spring and publish in autumn 2017
  • Consultation: How we will set appropriate performance measures and procedures – We plan to consult in spring and publish in autumn 2017

Under the Charter, Ofcom must enforce compliance by the BBC with specified requirements. These requirements include competition requirements, content standards in BBC programmes and other requirements set out in the Agreement.

Ofcom may consider complaints in relation to the BBC’s compliance with these requirements, and carry out investigations if we consider it appropriate. We may also impose certain sanctions on the BBC if it does not comply with these requirements.

We are required under the Agreement to set procedures for the handling and resolution of such complaints and for carrying out these investigations. We have therefore published a number of consultations which set out the procedures we are proposing to follow when dealing with these types of complaints and investigations.

Go to Enforcement Consultations

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has agreed Ofcom’s additional budget for regulating the BBC.

Ofcom plans to deliver its new duties effectively and efficiently, providing maximum value for money and ensuring the BBC meets audiences’ needs.

The funding cap agreed with the DCMS will cover all of Ofcom’s additional responsibilities including required staff, audience research and an appropriate share of common costs. Common costs cover any non-sector specific activities, such as rent and ICT.

The numbers below reflect the maximum extra agreed by the DCMS. The actual cost may fall below this and Ofcom will charge the BBC only for work carried out as it does for all other stakeholders.

  • Financial year 2016/17: £6.5m, of which £2.3m the BBC will pay in 2017/18.
  • Financial year 2017/18: £9.0m.

(Plus the £2.3 million in overheads costs, deferred from the 2016/17).

  • In 2018/19, £8.5m, pending a review of the first full year of costs.

Ofcom has currently recruited 30 additional staff and expects a total of 40 new members in post by April. Preparations are ongoing and, once a firmer view of workload and resourcing has been established, this number could grow – on our current reckoning – by an extra 10 people or so.

1. When is Ofcom taking on regulation of the BBC?

As stated in the BBC Charter, our duties start on 3 April  2017.

2. What is your role?

Ofcom will become the new external regulator of the BBC. Our  job will be to hold the BBC to account.

Our new BBC responsibilities will fall into three main areas:

  • Content standards – including assessing  the impartiality and accuracy of BBC news and current affairs programmes.
  • Competition issues – including the final determination on new BBC services or significant changes to existing services, and ensuring the BBC’s commercial services are not unfairly cross-subsidised by the licence fee.
  • Reviewing the BBC’s performance against its mission and public purposes.

The Government has decided that a new BBC unitary board will govern and run the BBC, and ultimately be responsible for editorial and management decisions.

3. Doesn’t Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code already apply to the BBC?

Yes, but not all of our rules currently apply to the BBC.  Our rules about the protection of children, harm and offence, crime, disorder, hatred and abuse, religion, and fairness and privacy, all apply to the BBC already.

When the new arrangements start, the remaining rules - on  accuracy and impartiality, elections and referendums, and commercial references in programmes, will also apply to the BBC.

4. What  is happening to the BBC Trust?

The BBC Trust will cease when Ofcom takes on responsibility  for the BBC’s regulation on 3 April. The governance functions carried out by the BBC Trust will move to the new BBC unitary board.