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UK government proposes 'top-slicing' BBC license fee

16 June 2009

A government report published today has suggested using part of the licence fee to fund news provision beyond the BBC. The NUJ has slammed new government proposals to 'top-slice' the BBC licence fee.

While welcoming recognition that action should be taken to deal with the crisis in local journalism, the NUJ believes that to focus on the licence fee as a funding source would be short-sighted.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"Top-slicing of the BBC licence fee would undermine the corporation's independence and put quality broadcasting at risk. We agree that funding needs to be found to support news provision outside the BBC, but there are other options that wouldn't inflict the same damage to the cornerstone of British public service broadcasting.
"Sharing the licence fee with other organisations is the start of a slippery slope towards the politicisation of the BBC. When politicians start to decide how the licence fee is divvied up, the independence and impartiality of the corporation will be put at risk. The government has said it will consider other options and that is exactly what it must do. We can't allow the BBC to become a political football."

The NUJ said that the government should conduct a detailed investigation into the use of levies to help fund public service broadcasting outside the BBC.

Politicians also came in to express grave concern about the plans. Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary and Vice-Chair of the NUJ Parliamentary Group, said:

"Maintaining the strength and independence of the BBC is vital. Top slicing – in whatever language – sets a precedence that undermines that independence.
"What guarantees can we have that future governments will not take more money from the licence fee to fund their pet projects, especially when they are unhappy with what the BBC is doing?"

John McDonnell MP, Secretary of the NUJ Parliamentary Group, also called on the government consider other options:

"Top-slicing the licence fee would be disastrous – weakening the corporation's ability to continue as a world respected public service broadcaster and attacking the historic relationship between the licence fee payer and the BBC.
"Before embarking on this ill-advised path, we need an urgent investigation into other sources of funding in order to provide news beyond the BBC without damaging what is the bastion of broadcasting in this country."

Tags: , broadcasting, bbc, top-slicing, digital britain, bbc licence fee, government uk