Pronouncement on future of BBC is a “vindictive and desperate act of distraction”

  • 17 Jan 2022

NUJ comment on the decision to freeze the BBC licence fee.

The NUJ condemned the government’s pre-emptive  statement on the future funding of the BBC and the scrapping of the licence fee as a “vindictive and desperate act of distraction” and called for all those who care about public service broadcasting to join forces in support.
Michelle Stanistreet
, NUJ general secretary, said:

“Despite negotiations between the BBC and the government having not yet formally concluded, the Secretary of State has done her bit for Operation Red Meat by indulging in this vindicative and desperate act of distraction to Save Big Dog. The BBC’s finest script writers would have a job making this stuff up, it’s beyond parody. When the evidence of partying, hypocrisy, lies and dissembling is mounting, what does this government do in response? It blames the journalists and the news outlets holding them to scrutiny, and plots acts of revenge.
“The BBC is renowned the world over, it is an economic powerhouse for the UK’s creative industry, yet this government is intent on hobbling a great British institution for its own short-term political gain. Unnamed government sources speak of the ‘end of state broadcasting’ and thereby demonstrate their woeful ignorance of what public service broadcasting truly is and what it stands for.
“This assault comes while we’re still in the grip of a public health crisis, in which the BBC more than rose to the challenge. Its extensive news programming – locally and nationally – was a lifeline for the public. Educational content and BBC Bitesize came to the aid of parents having to juggle work with the challenges of home-schooling whilst BBC content creators pulled out all the stops to continue educating, entertaining and informing us despite the challenges thrown up by Covid restrictions. To compare our public service broadcaster with Netflix or any other streaming channel is fatuous.
“Freezing the licence fee for the next two years will do enormous collective damage to programming and services, to employment and ultimately to democracy. Yet the individual cost to licence fee payers to simply match inflationary rises, would be an additional 80 pence per month – something the NUJ believes is proportionate and affordable.
“Bold assertions about the end of the licence fee model ignore the reality that extensive studies have not yielded a better model. However, regardless of how the BBC is funded, and alternative models exist, the key issue is to preserve the principle of universality that underpins our public service broadcaster. A subscription service in no way achieves that. Those Reithian principles of informing, educating and entertaining are as important today as they have ever been. To undermine that would be an act of cultural vandalism and we hope that the public sees these attacks for what they are and rallies to support the BBC and its unarguable value to our society.”

In its centenary year, the BBC’s global reach is nearing half a billion people. According to the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom it is overwhelmingly the most used media brand in the UK, accessed by 90 per cent of adults and 80 per cent of 18–34-year-olds each week. The World Service reaches 279 million people a week, and BBC News website is the world’s most visited. During lockdown the BBC Bitesize Education Service was used by 5.8million children during lockdown. 

Research from KPMG shows that every £1 of the BBC’s direct economic activity generates a total of £2.63 in the economy; and 50 per cent of the BBC’s economic impact is outside London, compared to a sector average of 20 per cent.

Since 2010, the BBC has overseen cuts of 30 per cent, with the NUJ highlighting the impact of cuts directed at grassroots news and programming. The current restructuring and cuts processes already amount to savings of £1billion. Freezing the licence fee at £159 would mean a further £1billion of cuts would be needed and an inevitable impact on the quality and breadth of journalism and programming.

While the minsiter first made public her plans in the Mail on Sunday and on Twitter, she came to Paliament to make the offical announcement:

  • The fee will remain at £159 until 2024 before rising in line with inflation for four years. The plans for the new licence fee settlement cover a period of six years and will take effect from 1 April 2022 until 31 March 2028.
  • The Welsh language broadcaster S4C will receive a similar settlement and is also allocated an extra £7.5 million a year to develop its digital offering. 
  • Later this year, as part of the mid-term review of the BBC’s Charter, the government will start to consider the overall governance and regulation of the BBC, whether the current arrangements are working effectively and whether reforms are necessary. This will include evaluation of the implantation of the 10-point action plan on impartiality and editorial standards in response to the Serota Review.
  • In light of the huge changes in the broadcasting landscape over the past decade with the arrival of streaming and video on demand, the government will consider whether the licence fee will remain a viable funding model for the BBC.

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