Peers told BBC should not subsidise local press
14 October 2015
That was the reaction of Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, to the suggestion the BBC was to blame for the problems of local and regional newspapers and that licence fee cash should be used to subsidise them.
Giving evidence to the Lords Communications Committee's inquiry into the future of the BBC, she said this was a myth perpetuated by the newspaper groups as part of an attempted land grab of the BBC's funding.
"It is a confection put about by the newspaper groups and yet another attempt to top-slice the BBC's funds. There is absolutely no evidence the crisis in local newspapers is caused by the BBC. Quite the opposite.
"The titans, who run these groups, either here or from the United States, are to blame for the failure of their own business models. They enjoyed lavish profits for many years and didn't re-invest in journalism.
"They have cut and cut costs to maintain high profit levels and have not cared they do not have enough reporters to send to council meetings or cover such vital areas such as health and education and matters of importance to local communities. Now they see the BBC is ripe for the picking and have gone hell for leather to secure money from the corporation."
She described the proposal to get the BBC to fund 100 local journalist jobs as “privatisation through the back door”.
"If you have 100 local reporters who are going to be invested in by the BBC and the members of the local press will somehow bid for those contracts – then that will be privatisation through stealth. And it will undermine the BBC's ability as a public service broadcaster."
She praised the talent and hard work of members employed by the BBC and said she saw absolutely no evidence to show that the public wanted to reduce the size and scope of the BBC. "It is watched, listened and enjoyed by 96 per cent of the UK population. We should celebrate this and be proud. It fulfils a role that nobody else does in its breath and range and inspires us all."
She blamed the BBC for agreeing to a backdoor, shabby deal which means the corporation will now pay for the licence fees of the over-75s and expressed the shock felt by everyone by the way the deal was done. This was despite promises by Tony Hall, the BBC director general, and John Whittingdale, culture secretary, that, unlike last time, the process would be transparent. She said the BBC should not have agreed to this deal and it was time the licence fee was taken out of politics and decided by an independent body.
In response to a question by Baroness Benjamin, she said the BBC had a role in the wider creative industry in promoting diversity and equality as an exemplar. While there were plenty of policies and warm statements, she said, on the ground it was different, especially in where the BBC cuts were falling. She said:
"At the same that time the BBC is saying it wants more talented Black and ethnic minority journalists and projects to encourage them, we are seeing talented Black and ethnic minority journalists losing their jobs and being targeted for redundancy. In news, James Harding's small empire, during the course of the cuts all the BME staff lost their jobs, as did the disabled people who worked in that department and the women who were left were under 40."
She called for the replacement of the BBC Trust with a body which would play a watchdog role and bring about a systemic change to the culture. Ofcom should beefed up role its own role in policing diversity across the industry and have power to implement sanctions, including financial, where targets are not met.
Michelle agreed with Dinah Caine, of Creative Skillset, who was also on the panel, that there was a case for making training one of the BBC's public purposes, but not at the expense of funding for journalism and programme making.