Opinion: The BBC's future is vital to us

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust, but writes in a personal capacity

Why should voluntary sector organisations be worried about the future of the BBC? It's not as if we haven't got enough on our plate as it is.

Strange, then, that concerns about the BBC's future register among the 12 priorities in the NCVO's draft election 'manifesto' currently being circulated for consultation. Take a closer look, however, and you see that the umbrella body has a point. The sector needs to defend public service broadcasting with a passion. For a start, it offers a financial lifeline. The BBC raises almost £100m each year through charity-appeal broadcasts each year, with events like Children in Need and Red Nose Day making up a significant proportion of the sector's income.

But it's not just about money. Public service broadcasting is about meeting the communication needs of all citizens, giving a voice to those who would not be heard in a purely market-driven service and helping to create an informed democracy. Through providing information and hosting debate, public service broadcasters are powerful agents for social change. We need them.

The NCVO manifesto highlights a pressing concern: the renewal of the BBC's charter in 2006 and the need to ensure that the BBC continues to be regulated by Parliament, so that it is directly accountable to citizens.

With the debate about the future of the BBC dominated by media corporations, it will be important to ensure that the voluntary sector's views register with policy makers.

But the sector's concerns about the future of public service broadcasting should not start and end with the BBC. In a digital age, the concept of public service broadcasting can no longer be assigned to a single source.

Ofcom, the regulator responsible for the rest of the communications industry, has been mandated to "further the interests of citizens in relation to communication matters" as its "principal duty". The voluntary sector needs to add its voice to those calling for additional measures to be put in place to ensure that Ofcom becomes more responsive to the views of citizens.

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