Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Citizens, rise up...

Last night I was at the Parliamentary launch of the Citizens Coalition for Public Service Broadcasting hosted by John Grogan MP, a brilliant defender of PSB.

He rightly ridiculed James Murdoch's assertion that profit is the guarantor of quality and independence and set out a very firm opposition to top-slicing the licence fee as part of the attempts to maintain quality local and regional news on ITV.

Carole Tongue, former MEP, set out clearly the case for levies to address the funding gap, a move supported by the NUJ and BECTU. 

Levies operate in almost every other European country - and it seems logical that those who benefit from public service content should pay towards its creation. Not if you're a politician maybe, but to the rest of us it's logical. Carole also pointed out that the 5 terrestrial TV stations - BBC 1 and 2, ITV, Channel 4 and Five - are responsible for 90% of the investment in original UK PSB content. All the others put together are responsible for just 10%, despite the fact their revenues are 10 times those of the terrestrial PSBs.

John Whittingdale displayed a remarkable political arrogance in saying, despite the fact that the public had consistently backed levies over top-slicing the licence fee in Ofcom consultations, that he "didn't believe what people told Ofcom". He also said the BBC had more resources than the rest of the broadcasting industry put together. It's not true. He also signalled that commercial public service broadcasters would get a far easier ride under the Tories (and here were we thinking it couldn't get any easier!). He said: "We can't go on requiring them by law to carry on providing public service content". All hail the market!

What became clear from the civil servant from DCMS present is that mechanisms for distributing contestable funds (from top-slicing?) will be in the Queen's Speech and that there is effectively then a 12-week Parliamentary timetable to get it on to the statute books.

That means all of us who care about quality public service broadcasting, who oppose top-slicing as the thin end of the wedge, who care about the universality of PSB need to get active now. There's some ideas for action here.

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