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Green paper theatens to downsize the BBC

New Broadcasting House, London  -  © NUJ

16 July 2015

The BBC's role is under threat of being downsized and becoming a rump broadcasting service –  fulfilling the roles and programming the commercial sector is not interested in.

In her response to the government's green paper and public consultation on the BBC Charter Review, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"There is no evidence the public wants a smaller BBC which, as the green paper says, may become 'more focused on a narrower, core set of services'. The BBC is a world-respected public service broadcaster, something we should be proud of, and something we need to preserve.
"The BBC is watched and listened to by 96 per cent of the UK population.  It is the largest single investor in TV news. Every £1 of licence fee spent by the network generates £2 of economic activity. The licence fee is the single biggest investor in the arts and creative industries and the biggest commissioner of new music in the world.

"Why, if we have something so popular, great value for money and a huge asset to the cultural fabric of the nation, would we want to reduce its scope with a remit to produce programmes the commercial sector is not interested in? It must continue to inform, educate and - importantly - entertain.

"After the shabby, secret deal cooked up between the BBC director general and the Chancellor, for the corporation to pay for the licence fees of over-75s, this consultation must be open and the views of the public and the industry, including the staff of the BBC, must be listened to."

Although John Whittingdale, Culture Secretary, told Parliament it was not the government's job to decide whether the BBC made programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, he made it clear he intended to reduce the scope and scale of the corporation. He made reference to the Savile scandal, the disastrous £100m Digital Media Initiative project and the excessive payoffs for BBC executives.

He added the licence fee was likely to survive the next charter period, starting in 2017, because the technology to introduce a subscription service was not available. His options were a reformed licence fee, a household levy or a hybrid model,but he indicated a shift to subscription would be investigated for the future.

He said the loophole which allowed people to watch up catch-up TV without a licence would be closed within the year. He also published David Perry QC's report, the TV Licence Enforcement Review, which concluded that decriminalisation of licence fee evasion would not be appropriate under the current funding model. But, he said, it would be considered as part of the review of the BBC’s charter.

It is clear that the BBC Trust's days are numbered. Chris Bryant, shadow culture secretary, said it was bust. The options cited were to create a stand-alone oversight body, or use a third-party regulatory body such as Ofcom.

The consultation paper  said it would "consider the full range of options for reforming the BBC’s commercial operations, including full or part privatisation of Worldwide".

The BBC Charter Review public consultation sets out four broad issues for discussion:

  • What is the overall purpose of the BBC?
  • What services and content should it provide?
  • How should the BBC be funded?
  • How should the BBC be governed and regulated?

The BBC's director general had already made a much-criticised, secret deal with the Chancellor in which he agreed to cover the cost of providing free television licences for over-75s. In return, the licence fee, he said he was told, would rise in line with consumer price index (CPI) inflation over the next charter period.

However, the Culture Secretary's statement appeared to undermine the deal because he said the decision on funding would depend on the outcome of the consultation and the BBC's ability to make efficiency savings.

The NUJ's Love it or Lose it campaign will be fighting to defend the BBC, quality journalism and programming.

Tags: , broadcasting, bbc, green paper, consultation, john whittingdale, chris bryant, charter renewal