The BBC licence fee deal must be re-examined in the light of revelations surrounding the disturbing influence of Rupert Murdoch and his News International executives on David Cameron and senior government ministers, says the National Union of Journalists.
The proposal came yesterday (14 July 2011) as thousands of journalists were preparing for a 24-hour strike against compulsory redundancies at the BBC.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet commented: “As the News International scandal deepens it is becoming increasingly clear that David Cameron and others at the heart of government have been in thrall to Rupert Murdoch, shamelessly prioritising the commercial interests of one powerful man over those of the British public.
She continued: “The shabby deal on the BBC licence fee settlement was done behind closed doors last Autumn, with no democratic scrutiny or transparent discussion. It marked a watershed in the Corporation’s 89-year history.
“Can David Cameron and George Osborne honestly say that there was no Murdoch influence behind the decision to freeze the licence fee for the next six years? That decision has led to the axing of vital language services at the BBC World Service and the imposition of 20 per cent spending cuts across the BBC. Quality public service journalism and the BBC audiences are suffering the consequences of this deal, clearly taken at a time when huge pressure was being exerted by News International executives.
“We know Murdoch was putting huge pressure on our politicians in the run up to the general election and since then. Channel 4 News reported that ‘Friends say Gordon Brown believes the Murdoch empire turned its fire fully on him because he refused to adopt their demands, cutting back BBC TV and Online services and the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, too. Gordon Brown’s friends say David Cameron, in the run up to the election, was readier to say what Rupert Murdoch wanted to hear’.
“The assurances from Tories keen to woo News International came thick and fast – David Cameron publicly stated, ‘So in the Conservative government Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist; its remit will be restricted to its narrow technical and enforcement roles.’
“It is vital that the dodgy licence fee deal should now be re-examined as a matter of urgency in light of recent developments. The deal should be undone and there should be the proper transparent and open debate with staff and stakeholders about the future funding of the BBC that was called for – and ignored by the government – at the time,” concluded the NUJ General Secretary.
* National Union of Journalists: http://www.nuj.org.uk/