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Report shows levies could fund public service broadcasting

27 April 2009

A new research report has shown that the crisis facing public service broadcasting (PSB) could be solved if the government were willing to take bold action.

The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) was commissioned by BECTU and the NUJ. It says that a system of levies could be used to secure new funding for public service broadcasting. It also highlights ways in which state-owned assets, such as broadcast spectrum, could be used to close the PSB funding gap.

The report, Mind the Funding Gap: the potential of industry levies for continued funding of public service broadcasting, looks at where levies could be placed on the profits of companies that benefit from the existence of public service generated content, but currently contribute little towards its production.

The report finds that a one per cent levy on Virgin Media and BskyB revenues could raise an estimated £70 million per year for quality broadcasting.

An alternative proposal examined in the report includes placing a charge on the revenues of new media companies, such as mobile phone operators or internet service providers. Around £210 million could be raised per annum through a one per cent levy on mobile phone companies alone.

It is estimated that a commercial PSB funding gap of between £145 and £235 million will emerge with the switchover to digital television.

Whilst the unions are not being prescriptive over the level at which any duty should be set, they say the research shows that levies present a serious alternative to the decline of local news, current affairs and children's programming.

BECTU and the NUJ believe that the government must now seriously consider how additional funding can be secured to guarantee a future for quality TV.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"All the plans we've seen so far suggest ways of spreading diminishing resources more thinly. Now the government has detailed evidence that shows new funding could be found – all it needs is the political will to get behind public service broadcasting. We suspect that companies will vehemently resist these proposals but sometimes what's good for the public has to come first."

Gerry Morrissey, BECTU General Secretary, said:

"As the media world changes, it's imperative that we find a way of providing broadcasters with funding streams so that they can go on producing programmes of which British viewers can be proud. We mustn't allow our hard-won reputation for quality to be undermined when a solution to the problem is within our grasp."

In many other countries levies are used to support public interest objectives. Previous research demonstrates that UK audiences place enormous value on the quality of public service broadcasting that has helped the UK build a worldwide reputation for excellence in broadcasting.

The unions warn, though, that the UK's continued success is dependent on sufficient funding being made available for those standards to be met and for investment in new digital innovations.

Research released by Ofcom last year showed that the UK audience would be willing to pay more per year to fund public service broadcasting.

Despite the range of DVDs, videogames and online content on offer, television viewing per day has increased. In 2008, the average British viewer watched 26 hours and 18 minutes of television per week – an increase of 48 minutes from 2007.

The government is currently conducting a Digital Britain review, which is looking at the future of public service broadcasting, as well as the future of the communications and media sectors.

Tags: , broadcasting, funding, public service broadcasting, new media, levies, ippr, bskyb, virgin media, mobile devices, digital britain, television, digital media