Under the BBC’s new 11-year operating agreement, known as its royal charter, its governing body — the BBC Trust — will be axed next year and censorship powers will be handed to Ofcom.But industry sources have told us that this has presented a dilemma around online news, which has become a focus of recent discussions between the BBC, government, and Ofcom.
Abolishing the BBC Trust will effectively create a loophole in censorship powers, meaning the BBC will not be accountable to an independent body for the text articles it publishes on bbc.co.uk/news. Ofcom does not have the power to regulate online news text and, in the case of the BBC, is reluctant to do so. It has no experience of regulating online text and is only set up to regulate video content.
Sources also said that Ofcom has made clear to the government that taking on this task for the BBC could set a tricky precedent. They expressed concern that if Ofcom begins regulating bbc.co.uk/news, the door is then open for these powers to be extended to other broadcasters and publishers. Would you end up with Ofcom regulating Mail Online? asked one person with knowledge of the matter.
Discussions are ongoing and no decisions have been made. An Ofcom spokesman said: We’re still in discussions with the government on how the content of the white paper will be delivered.
A Department for Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) spokesman said the BBC’s draft charter will make clear how we are addressing this issue when it is published later this month.