the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

25 May 2010

BECTU, which represents the largest group of union members at the BBC, is urging the BBC to draw up its future content plans with 'confidence and assertiveness' in mind rather than 'deference to political critics and commercial competitors'.

The call is contained in the union's submission to the consultation on the BBC Strategy Review. The consultation closes today (25 May).

Read the full document

BECTU's submission underlines the central importance of the BBC to public service broadcasting and the BBC's leading role as investor and producer of original UK content.

This position exists, says BECTU, despite the fact that BBC revenues are three times less than those of commercial broadcasters taken as a whole. 

The union's position statement welcomes the BBC's drive to spend more money on content rather than overheads and backs the commitment to more ambitious UK drama and comedy and to more funding for childrens programming from 2013. However the union believes that the cuts to radio and digital services suggested by the Review are 'self-defeating'.

"We believe instead that the BBC should emphasis its constructive and successful role underpinning all areas of our broadcasting sector, including those areas now suggested for cuts - for which we see no strategic benefit or justification."

BECTU's submission questions at a fundamental level the thrust of the BBC's Strategy Review which posed a threat to BBC 6 Music, the Asian Network, BBC Switch, Blast!, and to spending on online and sports rights when announced in March.

Commenting on the direction which the Strategy Review lays out,  BECTU says:

"We believe it can be characterised as a defensive and unambitious strategy for the Corporation. Far from anticipating and deflecting hostile criticism of the BBC, we believe it will simply invite a further and even more critical response from commercial rivals and from those political forces which ultimately seek to limit pubic service broadcasting and to support a more dominant role for commercial broadcasters."

The Strategy Review was published  just weeks before the general election was called and followed a period of sustained criticism from the BBC's commercial rivals and a campaign to top-slice the BBC licence fee.

BECTU was strident in its criticism of the corporation when the Strategy Review was published.

Whilst accepting that the media landscape has changed and that this evolution will continue, BECTU argues that:

".... the correct response is to emphasise the unique strategic role of the BBC as the cornerstone of our broadcasting system and the benchmark for all competing broadcasters. We believe that far from being defensive , we should emphasis the BBC's strength and relevance in the emerging digital landscape and its unique role which commercial broadcasters simply cannot match."

Licence fee benefits go beyond the BBC itself

The union's submission emphasises the BBC's contribution to the economics of the independent production sector (£1.4bn) and the benefits to the whole broadcasting sector derived from the Corporation's work in training and technical research.

"Deloittes acknowledges that the BBC contributes an estimated £7.7bn to the economy as a whole - double the value of the licence fee", says the union's document.

Empty promises on the Asian Network?

BECTU's submission welcomes the 'strong and impressive' response from listeners to the threat to BBC 6 Music.

The union challenges the Review's "empty and vague indications" which suggest that the closure of the Asian Network would lead to a redistribution of funds to serve Asian audiences in other ways.

"We suspect that this simply would not happen at any equivalent level," says BECTU.

The union condemns proposals to cut the services for young people provided by Switch and Blast! as 'inconsistent and contradictory' given the need for the BBC to build its future audience. The union also questions the BBC's decision to refuse to accept responses to the consultation from the under-16s.

The union also cautions the BBC about cutting spending online - an area of major success for the BBC - when there is little evidence of  'compensating initiatives' from the commercial sector whose contribution to public service online content has been negligible.

The BBC Trust is set to report on the conclusions it draws from the consultation in the autumn.


BECTU's submission was written by the union's research officer, Andy Egan.