Unions warn Ofcom on jobs

BECTU and the NUJ have urged Ofcom to steer clear of decisions which could put 1000s of broadcasting jobs at risk.

Ofcom, which is due to announce tomorrow the results of its review into public service broadcasting, is still contemplating, unions believe, a cut in the BBC’s income - otherwise known as ‘top-slicing’ - to assist other contributors to the sector.

“Both unions have urged Ofcom not to miss the opportunity of introducing new funding measures”

BECTU and the NUJ believe that any decision to top-slice the BBC’s income would fundamentally destabilise the corporation, damaging output and jobs, at a time when the BBC is already making significant cuts to plug its own funding gap.

Whilst Ofcom’s announcement tomorrow is expected to lead on proposals to save Channel 4, it is vital that the much-needed Channel 4 funding solution does not deal a body blow to other operators, say the unions.

Both unions have urged Ofcom not to miss the opportunity of introducing new funding measures, such as industry levies, to ease the responsibilities of PSB funding.

“The BBC is widely recognised, and not least by Ofcom, as the cornerstone of the UK’s public service broadcasting; tomorrow, we need Ofcom to stand 100% by that statement whilst also proposing measures which genuinely sustain PSB for the future,” explained BECTU’s General Secretary, Gerry Morrissey.

Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary said: “Ofcom have a duty to maintain and strengthen public service broadcasting.

“They must avoid solutions which simply rob Peter to pay Paul and instead concentrate on opening up new funding sources. Viewers, staff and citizens need Ofcom to stand up for quality public service broadcasting”.

ITV Regional News

Tomorrow’s announcement is also expected to address ITV’s controversial move to make substantial cuts to its regional news output, harming the current service and in effect leaving the BBC with little competition in this area.

If, as expected, Ofcom announces agreement on a sharing of resources between the BBC and ITV then the details will need close scrutiny.

Plurality in news provision is essential for detail, transparency, debate and diversity; will Ofcom’s solution provide that?

“What the audience needs is at least two distinct and editorially independent regional news services. If not, the solution could prove unsustainable both for audiences and for the respective workforces and put still more skilled jobs at risk,” commented BECTU.

Jeremy Dear said: “Local news is a key component of public service broadcasting. Ofcom instead of finding innovative solutions appears likely to roll over and let ITV continue to hack away at its staff, its programmes and its commitment to local viewers”.

It is also a fact that any solution to ITV’s problems in regional news will come too late for the 400 plus production staff and journalists who are set to lose their jobs due to proposals fast-tracked by their management ahead of Ofcom’s announcement.

Alternative solutions

The broadcasting unions are both on record for their criticism of Ofcom’s approach to the PSB Review.

Both unions regret that the regulator appears to have has closed its mind to alternative sources of funding to support PSB for the longer term.

BECTU has long argued that BSkyB should make an contribution, via an industry levy, and in its latest submission to Ofcom, BECTU called for a mix of gifted spectrum and industry levies on BSkyB, independent production, non-PSB providers and new media, as a way to ease and distribute the costs of public service broadcasting.

BECTU’s submission to Ofcom last December had this to say: “Ofcom's preference for a default position of light touch regulation and market-oriented solutions is as inappropriate in broadcasting as it has proved to be in the global financial system. Support for market-influenced solutions is a sign, not of intellectual rigour, but of intellectual weakness.”

The NUJ argued: “Everywhere deregulation is seen as the root cause of many of the financial problems facing British industry. Now the same failed solutions are being applied to broadcasting. It’s time to show the political will to come up with new funding solutions that reject free market dogma and recognise the critical role public service broadcasting plays in our communities and our society”.

Tuesday 20 January 2009