We need a BBC which meets the desires and needs of the public

STATE VOICE? many see the BBC as a voice of the establishment, with some feeling strongly enough to demonstrate outside its offices on several occasions last year. (Photo: Simon Whittle)

NUJ Scottish Organiser Paul Holleran outlines the union’s campaign on the future of the BBC The NUJ has launched a new campaign with the sexy title of ‘The BBC - Love It Or Lose It’. Preparing for an intense battle, the union is urging activists to engage with the five consultations on the future of the world’s largest and best known Public Service Broadcaster.

The consultations will cover issues like the Charter Renewal and licence fee as well as a review of local radio local news programming. Petitions set up by BECTU (Love-it-or-lose-it-save-the-bbc) and 38 Degrees (Protect Our BBC) are circulating, seeking public and trade union support.

Along with other sister unions in the Federation of Entertainment Unions public meetings and lobbying events are planned to highlight the “quality journalism and investigations breaking stories around the world”.

The Scottish committee of the Federation of Entertainment Unions has already started its own review working on briefing papers aimed at the public and politicians. We realise the situation is not as simple north of the border and a different battle needs to accompany the wider arguments to protect public service broadcasting.

There is a real need to develop constructive proposals aimed at changing the BBC as part of our armoury.

The battlefield is wide, the opponents are varied but the challenge and potential prize is a BBC that meets the desires and needs of the public in these nations and regions.

Our aspirations are for:
• a more responsive, transparent BBC, with directors held accountable at an AGM and elections
• reform of the BBC Trust with one third elected by licence fee payers and a further third elected by BBC workforce including staff representation on the Trust
• an increased funding solution including an alternative to the licence fee designed on affordability

A battle needs to be won against the boycott or non-payment of the licence fee in the meantime with a convincing set of arguments and firm proposals which restores lost public trust.

It is not just the Murdoch regime or right wing media like the Daily Mail, who see the BBC as a “left wing bastion of the public service sector”, who are seeking the demise of the organisation. There is now a sizeable minority who certainly do not love the BBC and who are not bothered a jot if they “lose it”.

Many people in Scotland actively dislike the BBC. They do not trust it and are not shy of using social media to tell the world what they think. They see it as a voice of the establishment, with many feeling strongly enough to demonstrate outside BBC offices on several occasions last year.

In mitigation, the NUJ has pointed out that there has been serious problems with mis-management in BBC Scotland for some time.

Devastating cuts to the workforce over a five year period, in the region of 30 per cent, has left programmes understaffed and under-resourced, with audiences short changed in terms of quality.

Senior figures in the BBC have now admitted the mistakes of front loading job losses in the lead up to 2014.

That was of course the most significant year for some considerable time in respect of major events happening in Scotland.
• The Ryder Cup in Perth one of the most important international golfing events in the calendar
• Cameron’s crazy celebration of the start of the First World War in Stirling
• The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
• And of course the independence referendum—one of the most important political campaigns for hundreds of years, which was treated as run of the mill election by John Boothman, the head of news and current affairs, making widespread job cuts in his department across Scotland and hiring 16 or so staff to compensate for that earlier loss.

There was wholesale opposition within the unions over this approach, with industrial action and constant conflict within the Pacific Quay HQ as staff were overstretched and undermined.

Staff were also disgusted in the lack of management response to the criticisms faced by journalists and programme makers, with no one standing up and explaining their position or challenging accusations of bias and engaging with the many members of the public unhappy with the coverage.

Since then, there has been a certain amount of recognition of the mistakes made, including the recent removal of the head of news and current affairs.

But we still believe there should be a review carried out to learn lessons from the referendum campaign and 2015 general election coverage, well before the start of the 2016 Scottish elections and any ‘in-out’ European referendum.

The NUJ reps and officials have met with politicians at Westminster and Holyrood to open up a dialogue on the future of the BBC. The response has been really constructive, particularly as there are a fair proportion of SNP MPs with some link to broadcasting or the media in their previous jobs.

A mature, in depth review is now required with a wide dialogue involving all parts of the media in Scotland, including ‘new-social media’. The political parties need to be involved as well as the public.

The first question should be what model do you want? A reformed, well resourced BBC, or an alternative resembling Fox News UK?

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