Longsuffering BBC staff face Xmas miseryBBC staff face Xmas misery
Morning Star - Saturday December 23rd 2006
NUJ vows to fight tooth and nail for quality journalism
by Tom Mellen
TRADE unionists pledged to fight “tooth and nail” in defence of quality jobs and journalism yesterday after reports that the BBC is facing a real-terms cut in the licence fee.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has struck a deal with the Treasury which will see the licence fee held below inflation for the next six years, Channel 4 news said, reversing nearly 20 years of government policy.
The reported settlement is a bitter blow for the corporation which has been pressing for an above-inflation increase in the current £131.50 fee.
According to Channel 4 there will be 3 per cent increases in 2007 and 2008, followed by 2 per cent in 2009, 2010 and 2011, with a rise of between zero and 2 per cent in 2012.
BBC Director-General Mark Thompson described the deal as “a real disappointment” and, in an email to staff, he warned that the corporation will face “some very difficult choices.”
NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear said that “such drastic underfunding will heap misery upon misery at the BBC.”
“After three years of spending cuts and thousands of job losses, the government has rewarded the world’s leading public service broadcaster with an ultimatum - cut jobs, cut services or cut quality.”
“We will fight tooth and nail for a fair funding settlement, against the arbitrary cuts being imposed on public services and in defence of jobs and quality,” Mr Dear vowed, adding “What a bizarre and shameful Christmas present for Gordon Brown to deliver.”
NUJ BBC Organiser Paul McLauchlin warned that well-loved staples like the Radio 4 Today programme and Newsnight are already losing reporters.
“We’ve worked with the Thompson regime for three years, but our members are not prepared to accept more punishment and we will stand up for them and for the interests of the country,” he declared.
Broadcasting workers’ union BECTU Assistant General Secretary Gerry Morrissey warned that, if reports were true, it could lead to heavy job losses and could seriously hit programmes.
“The licence fee should rise by at least the inflation rate. If not we are increasing the power and position of its commercial rivals,” warned Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.
“This is about imposing the government neoliberal agenda onto the media,” Media Workers Against The War chairman Dave Crouch said.
“Cuts have already led to more journalists sitting in the office and relying on the phone, which cannot but hurt quality,” Mr Crouch added.
And he applauded the “wonderful campaign by staff against advertisements on the BBC website,” noting that this “creeping commercialisation will be stepped up by the cuts in the licence fee.”
Ms. Jowell’s supporters claimed that she had “fought very hard for the BBC corner” and that the settlement represented a “decent compromise.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport insisted that the licence fee settlement has still not been finalised.
A BBC spokesman said: Discussions on the licence fee settlement are continuing and we await a decision and announcement in the new year.”