The Mid-Term Review of the BBC Charter has suggested a series of changes in BBC governance including bringing the online content under Ofcom regulations. IBT media

As the general election is coming closer, the impartiality of the UK news media houses like BBC has become a critical issue and the government is trying to boost the trust in news with a new reform plan.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sports announced on January 22 new reform plans for the BBC through the Mid-Term Review publication which carefully examined the 11-year BBC Charter.

This comes at a time when the Communication and Digital Committee has launched a future of news inquiry to understand how media houses are adapting in times of AI and other technology

Earlier in 2017, the UK government established new BBC governance and regulatory rules after the 2015/16 review of the BBC Royal Charter. At present the BBC is governed by a unitary board according to regulations passed to Ofcom, the first independent external regulator of the BBC.

The existing BBC Charter which began on January 1, 2017 and expires on December 31, 2027, provided the government to conduct a Mid-Term Review by 2024. A full charter review is on the cards in 2028.

The review has recommended changes in the BBC to earn the trust of the UK viewers including improving transparency for commercial media organisations, independent scrutiny of complaints handling and extension of Ofcom oversight to BBC online services.

It has also asked the BBC to reflect the diverse views and opinions while making decisions so that underrepresented audience groups are heard.

According to the review, certain UK audiences like disabled people and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds feel they are underrepresented by the BBC and hence an increased engagement with these groups has been suggested to address their concerns.

The Mid-Term Review suggests that UK audiences should be assured that their complaints about BBC TV, radio and other content are fairly handled without any bias. The scrutiny process of complaints should be more independent of the BBC programme-makers. For this, a new legally binding responsibility should be introduced in the BBC Board to oversee the process.

The new review also calls for more robust regulations of BBC online services through Ofcom where the UK regulator will be given a legally binding responsibility to review the complaints.

The Mid-Term Review further asks BBC to demarcate how the organisation is fulfilling the objectives set in the Charter for the rest of the term and how it will tackle competitors like local newspapers, radio stations and other services.

The UK government has also underlined some key issues which need to be addressed in the next Charter Review before the term ends in 2027. This includes differentiating BBC output and services from other broadcasters, reviewing the utility of the BBC social media guidelines and checking the relevance of the BBC First model.

This is in line with the concerns raised by the government regarding The Telegraph takeover deal by a Middle Eastern funding group which could impact its operations.

Measures suggested in the Mid-term Review to make BBC more independent

Speaking about the mid-term review, UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: "The Government wants to see a strong, independent BBC that can thrive in the years to come as a major contributor to the nation's successful creative industries."

"In a rapidly changing media landscape, the BBC needs to adapt or risk losing the trust of the audiences it relies on. Following constructive conversations with the BBC and Ofcom, we have recommended reforms that I believe will improve accountability while boosting public confidence in the BBC's ability to be impartial and respond to concerns raised by licence fee payers," added Frazer.

The Culture Secretary further explained how these changes will help the public broadcaster to "ask difficult questions of itself, and make sure Ofcom can continue to hold the broadcaster to account".

"We all rely on the BBC being the best it can be and this review will help ensure that is what the British public gets," the Culture Secretary added.

According to the new review published today, the 2017 introduced BBC complaints process allows the complaints to be addressed by the BBC before they go to Ofcom, making it directly accountable.

However, impartiality isn't assured as UK audiences are concerned about the BBC's objective in reviewing the BBC editorial content.

While the BBC will introduce the reforms for better scrutiny of complaints, the review also advised Ofcom and the BBC to inform the audience about the filing and scrutinising process of complaints for better transparency.