Focus: Policy and Politics - BBC review 'an opportunity' for sector

A coalition of charities has welcomed the BBC White Paper, writes Nathalie Thomas.

The voluntary sector stands to make "real gains" in terms of communication opportunities from the BBC charter review, according to a coalition of third sector bodies.

Public Voice says voluntary organisations at every level, from local community groups to international aid agencies, will benefit from the principles set out in the BBC White Paper.

"The whole thrust of the White Paper means we will no longer be dealing with a distant national broadcaster, but the BBC will be driven by social purposes that can bring real benefits to communities," said Don Redding, co-ordinator of Public Voice. "The voluntary sector should approach it in that light."

The BBC Trust, the broadcaster's future governing body, will have to ensure it adheres to six basic principles, including sustaining citizenship and civil society, reflecting the UK's nations, regions and communities, bringing the world to the UK and the UK to the world, and promoting education and learning.

Redding believes these values will lead to greater airtime for voluntary sector issues and campaigns. This could mean anything from local radio coverage to inclusion in the BBC's most popular programmes - as when EastEnders character Mark Fowler highlighted the subject of HIV and Aids.

The charter will also offer more opportunities for partnership working between the BBC and the sector, Redding added. A new code governing the way the broadcaster engages with external parties has been drawn up.

"Comic Relief, the Media Trust and the Community Channel already have partnership agreements, but it will be possible for other voluntary organisations or coalitions uniting around a big campaign to approach the BBC for a strategic partnership," said Redding.

But the White Paper, unveiled last week by Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, didn't answer all of Public Voice's prayers and the group, whose members include Acevo and the NCVO, will continue to push for further guarantees.

"We want to ensure the community media sector is not damaged by the BBC," said Redding. The coalition is concerned that as commercial channels reduce their regional programming the BBC will increase its activity in this area, leading to competition with not-for-profit media organisations.

Public Voice is also calling for specific guidelines concerning public participation as broadcasting moves towards digital interactive content.

"There's very little of that in the White Paper," said Redding. "There needs to be something specified about the BBC driving public engagement and participation in broadcast services. From a voluntary sector perspective, this relates to items such as last year's Africa season."

Redding believes the sector will benefit substantially from the BBC's commitment to more participatory programming.

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