Public service broadcasting could 'wither on the vine'

BBC’s PSB duty should be spread, says the NUJ

The NUJ has warned that UK public service broadcasting (PSB) will “wither on the vine” unless the obligation is spread across all broadcasters – not just the BBC.

Submitting its recommendations on the BBC charter review to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the union proposed a “public service broadcasting levy” on all broadcasters in a bid to spread some of the PSB obligation to multi-channel television and commercial radio in particular.

“The NUJ considers that the current framework governing broadcasting in the UK should be changed to place strong public service obligations on all major providers, so as to ensure the future of high-quality, independent broadcasting and related services,” the NUJ said in its report.

“Rolling out public service obligations across the sector could take the form of a PSB levy and/or a commitment to provide PSB programming from those services that currently have no significant PSB requirement. Unless this is done, and unless the BBC is set on a level playing field with its competitors, it will, like public service broadcasting in the USA, wither on the vine. Not immediate death, but death by a thousand minor policy instruments.” The union rejected proposals that the licence fee revenue be made available to other broadcasters to make public service programmes. “This would undermine the organisational strength that fosters independent thought and creativity in the BBC, by cutting radically the corporation’s income,” it said.

The NUJ also said the Government’s current policy caused problems by “creating one sector that is increasingly under-regulated (satellite, digital, commercial radio), one that is weakly regulated (ITV) and another with tighter public service requirements (BBC, S4C and C4)”.

“The BBC is one part of public service broadcasting in the UK. For the BBC to thrive, it must operate on a level playing field. The logic of the current situation is ultimately to diminish the relative weight of public service obligations across the whole sector.”

The union also recommended that BBC journalists be elected to the board of governors, and that the Government’s role in appointing the chairman and director general be removed.

It went on: “The board of governors, and all media regulators, should therefore be appointed using a system of nomination, election and public scrutiny to ensure that they are not creatures, or seen to be creatures, of the cosy network that constitutes the upper echelons of social and political life in the UK.”

By Wale Azeez

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