Unions representing the entertainment industry are gearing up their campaign to Fight for Our BBC.
At a public meeting at the House of Commons the Federation of Entertainment Unions (FEU) launched a booklet, BBC Cuts: There is an alternative, just before the BBC published its annual report.
Lord Patten, BBC Trust chair, boasted that that in his first full year as chairman he had seen many examples of the corporation at its best, from covering the most significant world news stories to bringing 144 hours of new British drama to TV screens and attracting record audiences for factual programming.
But all this could be under threat.
Under the so-called Delivering Quality First programme, the BBC must find 20 per cent cuts and 2,000 jobs losses, while its licence fee remains frozen until 2017. At the same time the BBC must take on extra £340 million in spending responsibilities, including the funding of the World Service, local TV and the rollout of fast broadband.
George Entwistle, the new director general, sent his apologies to the meeting. His appointment and the departure of Mark Thompson is seen as an opportunity by the FEU to re-open the disastrous licence fee deal which, as one NUJ member said, has "the fingerprints of the Murdochs all over it".
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: "James Murdoch used his infamous McTaggart lecture in 2009 to tear into the BBC. He characterised the corporation as an Orwellian nightmare and he said the BBC's news operation was "throttling" the market. A few weeks later, Jeremy Hunt, who became the man in charge of the BBC licence fee deal, said in an article in the Sun: 'If the BBC had any shame, they'd have waived this year's £68 million increase'.
"He then went on to say that 'with 47 BBC executives earning more than the Prime Minister, we need common sense on salaries'. Perhaps something we can agree with.
"But as David Cameron said, he didn't take heed of James Murdoch. Murdoch wanted him to cut the BBC licence fee. The government only froze it.
"And the fee was frozen in a shabby, behind closed doors deal by Mark Thompson. Even John Whittingdale, the Conservative chair of the Culture, Media and Sports select committee, described this deal as 'a short, private, negotiation between the BBC and the government which did not do much to inspire confidence in the independence, transparency or accountability of the process'. That is why George Entwistle must tear up the discredited Thompson deal and put together a new plan for the future of the BBC."
Luke Crawley, assistant general secretary of broadcasting union Bectu, said the booklet set out a number of alternatives to the funding. He said: "Elsewhere in the world, a 'carrier' such as BSkyB pays public service broadcasters to carry their programming. But here the payments have gone the other way. Variety Magazine estimates it has cost the UK £96 million, which could have been invested in programming. BSkyB has agreed to reduce its charge to the BBC by half, but it should be scrapped altogether."
Christine Payne, general secretary of actors' union Equity, said: "If we want change we have to work together to give the new Director General a strong and united message that there is a viable alternative to the cuts and to DFQ.
"And is there is one that is absolutely clear to me – it is that a BBC weakened by these cuts will be much more vulnerable to its enemies – who have consistently argued for it to be privatised.
"We do not celebrate enough the fact that the BBC leads the world in radio drama and short stories. But at this time there is a real danger that we are sinking below the critical level that will keep radio drama viable. Arguably this has already happened at the BBC World Service which no longer features any radio drama content."
The meeting heard concerns about the "creeping commercialisation of the BBC". The 2,400 staff working in the BBC's Global News department, including the BBC World Service, have been told they must now "exploit new commercial opportunities and maximise the value we create with our journalism".
Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton, said: "The BBC is as part of Britain as the legal system and Parliamentary democracy. If Murdoch had had his way it would be the end of civilisation as we know it. What I want to know is, what role does the BBC Trust have in this and why it is not defending the BBC."
The meeting was told there had already been an announcement of 140 job cuts in BBC news: the eighth consecutive year of cuts. Posts will be lost at Newsnight, Radios 1 and 4; 28 posts are to go in the newsroom, including nine studio staff. Editions are being cut from Radio 4's Law in Action, and The Report, while Beyond Westminster and Taking a Stand will come to an end. There will be a cut of about nine hours per year of ad hoc current affairs series on BBC2. The BBC plans to halve its spending on party conferences and dramatically reduce programme presentation from them. Six jobs will go at Millbank, including four posts in live political programmes.
BBC1 will cut its minimum hours of arts and music from 45 to 40 hours and BBC2's hours will be cut by a quarter, although there will be some transfer of arts and music to BBC4. BBC2 will cut its minimum hours of first-run factual programming from 520 to 375. Channels 3 and 4 will be expected to make cuts to "content spend" of more than 9 per cent. Radio1Xtra will end its commitment to 50 live music events a year. Radio 3 will cut the number of specially recorded performances from 500 to 400 and cut new drama productions from 35 to 25.
The Asian Network, which has played a vital role in nurturing talent in the Asian community, is to be severely cut and moved from its home in the Midlands to London. International news coverage will be affected with a number of sponsored reporter posts around the world are to go.
The cost of an annual licence fee has gone up by just £10 since 2007. It now costs just over £12 a month for all the TV, radio, website and live events the BBC covers. That compares to more than £60 a month for some subscription services. The annual fee is £145.50 (approx. €185.50). This compares with €215 in Germany, €385 in Switzerland and €125 in France.
John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who chaired the meeting, said it was a battle that needed to be fought on a number of fronts. There was a political battle to be won with a Coalition government half way through its term, when it will not want to be seen attacking popular institutions such as the BBC and NHS. However, there also needs to be guerrilla activity at specific targets, such as the World Service or local radio and other parts of the deal where the licence fee payers money has been plundered to fund schemes such as Local TV and superfast broadband, which should be paid from general taxes.
to read the booklet