British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the public service broadcasting company in the UK, the world’s oldest national broadcaster and the largest broadcast operator on the globe with a staff of over 35,400 (including part-time contributors). The BBC has played a prominent role in British life and culture throughout its history and represents a model of public broadcasting that many countries in the world have historically aspired to adopt. In spite of a decline in its viewership in recent years, the BBC remains the most successful public broadcaster in Europe with a weekly reach of 67%.

BBC offers a large portfolio of television services, including BBC One, the most watched channel in the UK, the youth-focused service BBC Three, as well as national and regional television services available across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The broadcaster also operates 10 nationwide radio networks, two national radio services each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as 39 local radio stations.

The corporation also runs BBC World Service, which is catering to a global audience. BBC World Service runs television, radio and online services in more than 40 languages.

Media assets

Television: BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, BBC News, BBC Parliament, CBBC, CBeebies; S4C, BBC Alba

Radio: National- BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC Radio 5 Live Sport Extra, BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Asian Network; Regional- BBC Cymru Wales, BBC Scotland, BBC Northern Ireland; Local- East: BBC Essex, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, BBC Radio Norfolk, BBC Radio Northampton, BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Three Counties Radio; East Midlands: BBC Radio Derby, BBC Radio Leicester, BBC Radio Nottingham; London: BBC Radio London; North East and Cumbria: BBC Radio Newcastle, BBC Radio Cumbria, BBC Radio Tees; North West: BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Merseyside; South: BBC Radio Berkshire, BBC Radio Oxford, BBC Radio Solent; South East: BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Surrey, BBC Radio Sussex; South West: BBC Radio Guernsey, BBC Radio Cornwall, BBC Radio Devon, BBC Radio Jersey; West: BBC Radio Bristol, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Somerset, BBC Radio Wiltshire; West Midlands: BBC Radio WM, BBC CWR, BBC Hereford & Worcester, BBC Radio Shropshire, BBC Radio Stoke; Yorkshire: BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Sheffield, BBC Radio York Yorkshire & Lincolnshire, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Radio Lincolnshire; International: BBC World Service

State Media Matrix Typology: Independent Public (IP)

Ownership and governance

The BBC’s main constitutional basis is the Royal Charter, a document that sets out the BBC’s objectives and mission, and also outlines the governance and regulatory structures in the corporation.

The current Charter, covering the period 2017-2027, outlines the role and composition of the BBC Board, the highest governing body in the corporation. The BBC Board is composed of 14 members, of whom 10 are non-executive members (including the Chair of the Board) and four are executive members (including the General Director).

The 10 non-executive members are appointed as following: four members designated by the four nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), appointed by the Queen (with her Privy Council), and selected for nomination through an open competition, in line with rules enshrined in the Governance Code, a set of rules for fair public appointments, following a recommendation from the Secretary of State; the Chair of the Board is appointed by the Queen through the same procedure as for the four nation members; the other (five) non-executive members of the Board are appointed by the Board in line with the rules in the Governance Code and following proposals from an independent Nomination Committee (which is known the Board Nomination Committee).

The four executive members of the Board are appointed by the Board based on proposals from the Nomination Committee.

These governing rules involve several parties in the actual appointment and nomination process as well as a series of rules and principles that must be respected during the selection process in order to prevent political interference and control of the governing bodies.

The operation of the BBC is also regulated by a so-called “Agreement”, a document concluded between the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the BBC, which provides further detail on all the issues covered by the Charter. The Agreement can be amended during the Charter period, but only through an agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC.

Source of funding and budget

The BBC is majority funded by revenues raised through the license fee, a levy that all British households are obliged by law to pay if they use the broadcasting services, and that stands now at GBP 159 (US$ 191) annually (a higher fee being charged on businesses). Part of the revenue raised from the license fee is used to cover costs related to broadband rollout or to fund local broadcasters.

The license fee has allowed the BBC to operate without any constraints, independent of political interests and free of ads.

The group also generates commercial revenue, but that activity is carried out by its commercial subsidiaries (BBC Studios, BBC Global News and BBC Studioworks). BBC Studios is BBC’s production and distribution business. BBC Global News is the commercial news subsidiary of the corporation, in charge of operating the BBC’s English-language television and online services outside the UK. BBC Studioworks provides television studio facilities, equipment and post-production services.

In 2021, the BBC had a budget of more than GBP 5.0bn (over US$ 6bn), according to the station’s annual report for that year. The license fee revenue accounted for some 75% of that budget. In 2022, BBC operated with a total budget of GBP 5.33bn (US$ 6.28bn), license fees accounting for roughly 71% of that, according to data from the 2022 annual report issued by the corporation.

The BBC also gets state funding, primarily used for expansion of its worldwide news operations; however, this financing accounts for a small share of the group’s overall budget. In 2016, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) awarded a grant worth GBP 291m to the BBC to be spent over the following four years, mostly to be used for the expansion of the World Service, according to an annual report from the company.

According to the latest BBC Charter, the main document regulating the operation of the corporation, the license fee will be used to pay for BBC until 2028 at least. As this form of funding is becoming less sustainable in the current digital environment, the BBC is asked by the government to design a new financing model for the long-term future.

In January 2022, the British government announced that it will scrap the fee after 2027. The fee will be replaced with another form of funding, but a decision about that is yet to be made. Although it is not clear yet what funding model will be adopted by the authorities, the abolition of the fee could potentially raise threats to the BBC’s independence.

In July 2022, the UK’s House of Lords suggested replacing the license fee with a means-tested levy that would be collected by local councils. The fee, according to the House, is to be paid by all households in the country.

Already in the next two years, BBC is expected to face significant financial shortages as the authorities decided to freeze the license fee at the current GBP 159 level, which will not be sufficient for the broadcaster to cover the surge in costs triggered by a galloping inflation.

The Government was likely to launch a formal review of the BBC funding model in the last quarter of 2023, however with elections scheduled for 2024, no decision in this regard is expected earlier than 2025. The BBC financing model is going to change in 2027 when the corporation’s Royal Charter (see Ownership and governance above) is up for renewal.

Editorial independence

There are no rules imposed by the government on the BBC that would allow the government to control the editorial coverage of the station. Although there have been attempts by politicians to influence the BBC’s editorial coverage, the station has managed to protect its editorial independence. Mainly thanks to the funding and governing model of the BBC, political interference in the editorial affairs of the station is difficult to achieve.

In the past year, however, the attacks of the Tory government on BBC have intensified. Stepping up populist rhetoric about the need to eliminate the license fee, government officials are bent on dismantling the BBC’s current funding model, which secured its independence for nearly a century. Some of these attacks are hosted and promoted by several Conservative newspapers in Britain.

Besides regulatory rules and guidance, the BBC’s Royal Charter also contains a series of guarantees for the broadcaster’s editorial independence.

According to the Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement, the BBC Board is in charge of setting the broadcaster’s editorial standards. According to the Royal Charter, an important part of the BBC’s mission is to provide impartial news and information. The Charter states that the content produced by the BBC should be at the highest editorial standards. The BBC Board is in charge of ensuring the delivery of the BBC mission and its public purposes.

The BBC also has a dozen other guidelines that set in detail rules for editorial coverage, which are aimed at ensuring quality, independence, diversity and plurality in the broadcaster’s coverage.

The BBC has a solid system of internal and external oversight in place. First and foremost, it is the job of the BBC Board to monitor how the station carries out its public service duties and document that in a publicly available Annual Report, which includes a section on how the group delivers on its public purposes.

Secondly, the BBC regularly organizes public consultations on a variety of issues, including TV license policies, regulation and governance and editorial issues. These public consultations are open to anybody who wants to give feedback. Industry bodies and other organizations regularly provide feedback as part of these consultation processes.

Finally, the UK has a number of other accountability mechanisms for media, BBC included, in cross-party parliamentary and House of Lords committees that investigate on a regular basis media-related issues. Thanks to the vibrant civil society in England, these exchanges are very important as academics, experts and the public are invited to submit evidence.

September 2023