Fight for BBC moves up a gear
18 July 2012
Unions representing the entertainment industry are gearing up their campaign to fight the BBC cuts.
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.
In it, 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: the BBC must find 20 per cent cuts and lose 2,000 jobs, while its licence fee remains frozen until 2017. At the same time the BBC must take on an extra £340 million in spending, including paying for 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 and his BSkyB are determined to cripple the BBC. He used his infamous McTaggart lecture in 2009 to call the corporation an Orwellian nightmare and claimed 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, wrote in an article in the Sun, 'If the BBC had any shame, they'd have waived this year's £68 million increase'.
"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.
"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:
"It is absolutely clear to me 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."