Unions lobby against proposed top-slicing of Licence Fee to fund news

MEMBERS of the National Union of Journalists from as far afield as Glasgow and Leeds joined colleagues in London yesterday to protest against plans to fund local news provision on Channel three from the TV Licence Fee – which currently goes exclusively to the BBC.

The lobby of MPs at Westminster was organised in conjunction with the broadcasting trade union, BECTU, and, as well as protesting against ‘top-slicing’ the TV Licence Fee, the unions presented an alternative way of funding commercial TV journalism: a levy on telecoms companies and online news aggregators.

Says the NUJ: “Hundreds of people have already written to their MPs to protest against top-slicing and to ask them to sign Early Day Motion 1891 that reaffirms their commitment to the licence fee.”

Added Sue Harris, NUJ broadcasting organiser: “The unions are absolutely committed to supporting regional news on commercial television.

“But we don’t think the answer is to put the BBC’s budget for public service broadcasting at risk.

“The NUJ doesn’t think the BBC is perfect; like others, we have concerns about management decisions, about levels of pay to executives and some celebs. But attacking the Corporation’s funding won’t help.

“The government must open its mind to alternatives that would bring in genuinely new money to quality broadcasting.”

Scotland has been chosen as one of three pilot schemes to host news programming on channel three, from some time next year, funded by proposed top-slicing. News consortia are to be invited to bid to run it and already two groups are known to be interested: STV and an alliance comprising the publishers of The Scotsman, The Herald and the Press & Journal newspapers.

Continued Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary: “The BBC has already cut 7,000 workers since 2004. ITV has cut thousands too – but NUJ and BECTU members struggle to produce regional news against the odds. We are committed to defending and strengthening quality journalism on all TV, radio and internet outlets.”