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Top-slicing: Kaufman decries 'stupid' legislation

Union representatives support the parliamentary lobby BECTU representatives Luke Crawley, John Greaves and Tony Lennon with the NUJ's Laura Davison at the Houses of Parliament on 14 October 2009.

17 October 2009

Veteran MP, Gerald Kaufman, lent his support to the campaign to stop top-slicing of the BBC licence fee at the lobby of Parliament this week.

The former chair of the parliamentary culture select committee joined fellow Labour MPs at a meeting called to discuss the government's Digital Britain proposals. 

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Gerald Kaufman, often a critic of the BBC during his high-profile years, condemned the plan to hive off 3.5% of licence fee income as a "stupid piece of legislation."  

Some 60 NUJ and BECTU representatives from across the country briefed MPs on their fears for the BBC's future independence from government should ministers proceed with the controversial proposal. 

With 7000 jobs cut by the BBC in the past four years and with the Labour Party preparing for a monumental fight at the next election, the BBC's long term future was at stake, speakers said. 

Speaking in defence of BBC funding and PSB, Mark Scrimshaw, chair of the union's BBC Division said "what we face now is nothing compared to what we may face next year."

Caroline Flint, Stephen Pound, Neil Gerrard and Jeremy Corbyn were amongst several MPs who took the time to pledge their support for the joint union campaign whilst recognising the urgent need for a new approach to ensure that commercial news media - both in broadcasting and print - can continue to provide a sustantial service to regional audiences. 

Union speakers highlighted the existence of credible alternative ways of funding regional news from commercial broadcasters.

BECTU NEC member, Jane Perry, warned that the "government is being seduced by something that we know instinctively will not work."

Peter Cox, also an NEC member, highlighted the lack of control of public funds which would ensue if independent producers, whose primary responsibility is to their shareholders, were to secure BBC funds in this way. 

The discussion underlined the challenge which faces supporters of the licence fee in their efforts to preserve BBC funding, and with it, the good health of UK public service broadcasting. 

Stephen Pound expressed doubt that the unions' levy proposals would win political support  whilst accepting that 'intellectually' the case was there to be made.

The public needs to be involved

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, worried that the public was being 'cut out' of the debate. "We've got to create popular support for the principles of public service broadcasting and we have got to develop this quickly," he said.

Neil Gerrard spoke pointedly about the threat to the local press.

Hundreds of  jobs have been lost this year due to lack of investment, the increasing influence of the internet and the recession in advertising. 

Looking ahead, Caroline Flint, encouraged the unions to seek an adjournment debate to engage MPs across the House in the issues. 

The joint unions have circulated thousands of postcards urging support for the 'don't top-slice' campaign. Have you sent yours?

Next month's Queen's Speech will determine the next phase of the campaign.

In September BECTU and the NUJ held  fringe meetings at the Labour and Lib Dem party conferences.

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