Background to IFJ/NUJ Conference on PSB, 22 May

<CENTER>Public Broadcasting in Europe :

BBC after Hutton Case

London, 22 May 2004

Transport and General Workers Union’s Diskus

128 Theobalds Road, London

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The National Union of Journalists of Great Britain and Ireland, with the support of the IFJ, is organising a Conference on public broadcasting with a special focus on the current situation of the BBC.

The Conference takes place in the framework of the worldwide “Public Broadcasting for All” Campaign that the International Federation of Journalists has launched in 2001 to defend public service broadcasting. The campaign aims to promote public service values, editorial independence, quality programmes and democratic and accountable systems of administration.

Globalisation and commercialisation in media pose a threat to the future of public service broadcasting. In Western Europe, we are seeing low cost, low quality programming, cuts in editorial budgets and a reduction in employment rights. New technology journalists are expected to film and edit as well as carrying out their journalistic role. There is less quality and less time to investigate and assess information.

In many European countries, public broadcasting has been voluntarily neglected or openly threatened by corporate power or by governments. In Denmark, the government decided to privatise the public television TV2 in 2002. In Italy, Prime Minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi has been strengthening his hold over the media in the past years. Mr. Berlusconi owns three private television stations, publishing industry and newspapers. He exercises considerable influence over the public broadcaster. Journalists are put under a heavy and continuous pressure from the government in their daily work.

All over Europe, the British Broadcasting Corporation is seen as a model and leading light in public service broadcasting. The BBC has a worldwide reputation for its editorial independence and freedom from political and commercial interference through its funding by the licence fee.

However, the Hutton report’s unprecedented criticism of the BBC and the resignations of its top executives – the chairman of the Governors and the Director General – have put the public service broadcaster into crisis.

Politicians, newspapers, and people within the broadcasting industry have a vested interest in seeing the demise of the BBC and see the present crisis and Charter renewal as an ideal time to put pressure on the Government and get a share of the licence fee.

The crisis in the BBC will have a knock-on effect on public service broadcasting world-wide, not just in terms of PSB in developed countries, but on those transitional countries and developing countries trying to move from a state controlled system to a true PSB system.

The aim of this conference on public service broadcasting is to review the situation with speakers and participants from the UK, Denmark, Italy as well as from other countries. Independence seems to be an uncontroversial topic, however the recent developments show that even in Europe the struggle for freedom of expression, cultural diversity and democracy needs to be continued.

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