On past form, the odds are that the new charter will be clumsily drafted and awash with weasel words; but it is worth analysing why this meddlesome mind-set is so dominant. We have two prime ministers: one nearly gone, one running on a shadowy twintrack. They both realise that there is something amiss with the mood of the nation, and do not admit that they may have made it worse. The incumbent PM, in the harrumphing tones of a cartoon colonel, enjoins “respect”. His heir-apparent wants patriotism.
OFCOM is to be given the responsibility of reporting on the market impact of new BBC services:
But having seen off recommendations from an independent committee chaired by Lord Burns to put the BBC under the auspices of a new regulator last year, the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, has made it clear she does not plan to back down. Instead, she will point to Ofcom's increased role as evidence the government has listened to commercial rivals, the media regulator and a Lords select committee, all of which called for radical change.
Far more radical would be a solution along the lines of that outlined by BSkyB's chief executive in 2003: private companies should be able to buy the rights to produce popular programming from the BBC. After all, if the private sector is willing to pay to provide specific programmes, where is the market failure that should be the raison d'etre of the BBC to correct?