BBC: Love it or lose it
17 June 2015
"We need to show we love the BBC, we need to fight to protect it, else we stand in danger of losing it," warned Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary.
She was speaking at an event in Parliament, hosted by Broadcast Magazine, which brought together a range of organisations, trade unions and workers in the broadcasting industry to forge an alliance as the BBC faces charter renewal and its funding deal. She said:
"What makes the BBC special? It might be your local radio station, the breadth of news and current affairs you can access on TV, the radio or online whenever you want it.Or the Proms, that parental inward sigh of relief that often accompanies CBeebies, or Eastenders, Natural World, hard hitting dramas, the amazing World Service, comedy, sports coverage, or simply the innovation that is the iPlayer – we can all think of something we absolutely love about the BBC and would miss hugely if it wasn’t there tomorrow.
"But the reality is that all of this is under threat.The year on year cuts and endless salami slicing since the last licence fee settlement have squarely compromised grassroots programming and journalism.
"As we run into the next period of negotiations, which will be kicked off by the government in July with its green paper, and a response from the BBC in September, we simply cannot sit back and allow an outcome that would lead to any further cuts, or a flat-cash settlement. Without a meaningful rise in the licence fee, we may not have a BBC to fight for in five or 10 years' time. The status quo is not an option."
The meeting marked the start of the Federation of Entertainment Unions' campaign – Love it, or Lose it -- in support of the BBC.
Chris Bryant, shadow culture minister, promised the Labour Party would fight to secure an increase in the licence fee. He said there needed to be proper consultation and not the stitch-up which occurred last time, when the BBC ended up with a licence fee freeze as well as taking on further funding responsibilities, such as the World Service, BBC Monitoring, S4C and rollout of broadband.
He described the BBC as the UK’s "cultural NHS" and said the concept of a licence fee worked because "if everybody’s going to put something in, everybody’s got to get something out". He said the BBC played a vital role in the UK creative industry as a “powerhouse of our future economy”.
All facets of the BBC's output needed to be protected. "Strictly Come Dancing and Holby City are just as much a part of public sector broadcasting as Jane Austen dramas and the Today programme," he said.
Laura Mansfield, vice-chair of PACT, the trade association for independent creative content producers, said the UK was the second-biggest exporter of TV content and the BBC is at the heart of this success. The whole industry benefited from having a strong, well-funded BBC, because it set the bar of quality for all other broadcasters to meet.
John Smith, general secretary of the Musician's Union, said the corporation, with its five orchestras and choirs, was the UK's biggest employer of professional musicians.The BBC, including BBC Worldwide, spends around £125m a year on music and is the biggest commissioner of new music in the world. From the Proms to Glastonbury, the BBC promotes music for all ages and tastes and plays a huge role in the nations' cultural lives.
Gayle Rennard, assistant secretary of the Writers' Guild, made the point that the BBC generated £8.3bn for the UK economy (in 2011-12), almost twice its licence-fee spend.
Gerry Morrissey, Bectu general secretary, said the salami-slicing cuts to the BBC's services had already cost thousands of jobs and damaged the quality of the BBC’s output. "Too much pressure is being placed on the remaining workforce and corners are being cut," he said.
The meeting heard that the BBC was the biggest investor in the arts, injecting £2.2bn into the creative industries in 2013/14 and was by far the biggest investor in news.
The debate was then opened and contributions were made by union members, the Media Reform Coalition, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers and supporters of children's TV.
Alex Wilks from the campaigning website Avaaz encouraged people to take part in its petition calling on PM David Cameron and culture secretary, John Whittingdale, to protect the public sector broadcaster.
MPs from all parties dropped into the event. Labour MPs John McDonnell, chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group, and Jeremy Corbyn, the group's secretary, added their support to the campaign. Before the public meeting, members of the Federation of Entertainment Unions join in a lobby of MPs.
Michelle Stanistreet said the NUJ would do all it could to support the best possible deal for the BBC, however the union was calling for a reformed corporation. The NUJ wanted licence-fee money to be spent on quality journalism and programming and not fleshy management layers, an end to the creeping commercialisation of the BBC, better diversity of staff and a transparent governance which included members of the unions on the board. She said:
"A recent survey showed 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 during that time.
"In real terms, at £145.50 it’s a snip for what you get in return - about the cost of a single posh cup of coffee every week and peanuts in comparison to the cost of subscription services."