The BBC is established by Royal Charter, and has been so from the very early days of its existence. The first Charter ran from 1 January 1927 to 31 December 1936, and we are now approaching the end of the eighth Charter. The fixed length of the Charter allows the Secretary of State an opportunity, every ten years or so, to look carefully at the BBC's role, functions and structure. We are taking this opportunity now, as the current Charter comes to an end on 31 December 2006.
The BBC Royal Charter
The BBC is a unique institution. Unique in the role it plays in public life. Unique in the way it is funded. Unique in the place it holds in the public’s affections.
Nearly all of us watch or listen to the BBC as well as the other public service broadcasters - ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and S4C. Whether through coverage of news and sporting events like the FA Cup, popular shows like EastEnders, or current affairs programmes like Panorama, the BBC plays a daily role in most of our lives. It is an essential part of what defines us as a nation. It is a distinctive voice that we turn to in good times and in bad.
The BBC’s activities are currently governed by a Royal Charter - a document that shapes the BBC, setting out what it is for, what it does and how it does it. The first Charter began on 1 January 1927. The current charter, the eighth, will expire on 31 December 2006.
Since 1927, a review has been carried out every 10 years or so to see how the BBC is serving the public and to consider its future. This process, called Charter Review, is now reaching its conclusion.
Anyone with a television pays a licence fee. The BBC is funded by that licence fee. That gives all licence fee payers a stake in its future.
This Charter review process has been open, wide-ranging, with full public and industry consultation and with an appropriate parliamentary stage. It has bought together many strands of work including that by Ofcom and the reviews of the BBC's digital services, BBC Online and BBC News Services. Once this latest Charter review is completed, we will be able to consider what the BBC of the future will look like.