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A critical time for the BBC

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Posted by Laura Davison

Laura Davison is a full-time organsier for the NUJ

The BBC's charter runs out at the end of next year, while the licence fee settlement is due to expire in 2017.The current licence fee settlement was based on a dodgy deal done behind closed doors which saw the licence fee frozen and additional responsibilities such as the fantastic BBC World Service, S4C, BBC Monitoring and the roll-out of fast broadband heaped on the corporation at a cost of £340m.During this period the BBC will have made £1.5 billion in annual savings. This has been made on the back of year-on-year cuts for the past decade which have damaged grassroots programming and journalism.The BBC World Service has shut more than a dozen local language services.The BBC, Europe's biggest provider of media and creative skills, as had its training budget reduced by 20 per cent. Additional money - up to £25m - from the licence fee has been diverted into propping up the failed Local Television initiative.On top of this, director-general, Tony Hall, has proposed plans to hive off BBC in-house TV production into a separate commercial subsidiary which would make programmes for the corporation and other broadcasters. This would need changes to the charter.

The danger is that if it becomes a separate entity, it would be possible to divide and sell off parts of the company. This happened to BBC Books (now majority owned by Random House Group), BBC Children's Books (now 75 percent owned by Penguin Books) and BBC Active learning resources (now majority owned by Pearson plc). The BBC's in-house production has a proud history, but these changes could mean the BBC becoming a buyer of programming, rather than a creator. The quality of BBC production is one of the main justifications for the licence fee.

The NUJ opposes this plan. One concern is that private sector companies are not required to adhere to important BBC policies on equality, diversity, health and safety, bullying etc. These companies rarely recognise trade unions. In independent radio, programme budgets are so small that employees report that “the working day has no real start or end time".

There is creeping commercialisation too the BBC's decision to allow product placement on some technology, sport and travel programmes on BBC World News, the global news channel is a dangerous step.

The decriminalisation of the licence fee is estimated at a cost of £200m.

Another licence fee freeze is not an option. Without a meaningful rise we might not have a BBC to fight for in five or ten years' time.

The NUJ and sister unions at the BBC have had their arguments with BBC management, but that is from the clear position of defending public service broadcasting. We want greater involvement of staff and unions in the board and any future governance.  We want reform of executive pay and money ring-fenced for producing quality programming and content.

It's expected that the charter renewal process will be kicked off by the government this month with a green paper and the BBC will give its response in September. We can't simply sit back and allow an outcome that would lead to further cuts, or a flat cash settlement.

We're saying to people “Love it or Lose it".

At the successful launch of the campaign in parliament three weeks ago shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant described the BBC our “cultural NHS".

How many other commercial broadcasters would fund five orchestras and choirs and put on the world-famous Proms?

This has to be a broad, public campaign. It's an opportunity to think about the things we value in the BBC and what makes it special to us. There is a battle ahead. Murdoch's lobbying of government to serve his commercial interests by reducing the BBC's reach will be full steam ahead. The right-wing press is already in BBC-bashing mode.

We must argue the case for the BBC's major role in presenting balanced, impartial news coverage which does not depend on the personal prejudices and foibles of media moguls or commercial pressure to appease shareholders.

This has to be a broad public process and campaign. It's an opportunity to think about the things we value in the BBC and what makes it special to us.

Facts and figures for the campaign

The BBC is by far the biggest investor in news and the largest single investor in TV news production. Ofcom has allowed ITV's local news to be reduced by a third in its new ten year licences.

A recent study shows that even in the face of significant problems and scandals such as Savile the BBC is more trusted and considered greater value for money now than in 2004. Support for the licence fee as the best means of funding has also grown over that time.

The BBC licence fee costs £145.50 a year, or £45p a day.

Top packages from Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk cost more than £1000 a year.

Every £1 of licence fee spent by the BBC generates £2 of economic activity.

For $100 million dollars you can have 22 hours of House of Cards, viewed by 6% of UK adults or around 79 hours of BBC drama seen by 71% of adults.

Sky and BT will spend more than £1.7bn in premier league rights from 2016/17. 1.7bn is the BBC's total direct TV content budget.

We must not forget the position of newspaper owners and their leaders in this debate. If the BBC uses local expertise it should give credit for it, for example, through links. The NUJ is calling for a short sharp enquiry into local news rather than a race to the bottom through across the board local and regional cutbacks wherever you may work.

At a time when how we consume news and information is changing and with the success of BBC iPlayer there is an opportunity for the BBC to really excite people with a vision for the future.

We'll work alongside other campaigns to join forces in coalition, to ensure the BBC's future is not squandered at this critical juncture. We need to show we love the BBC, and we need to fight for it.

What can you do?

Get briefed. Sign the petition at

Follow the  NUJ's  Love it or Lose it  campaign page

Use the hashtag #LoveitorLoseitBBC

You can contact your MP via the Write to Them.

The NUJ has a model letter you can use.

DATELINE: 4 July, 2015


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