Motion as passed by conference
Mover: Daisy Cooper MP (Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).
Summation: Baroness Bonham-Carter (Lords Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).
Conference notes that:
- On 16 February 2020, the Sunday Times reported that the Government plans to force the BBC to sell off most of its radio stations, close some television channels, scale back its website, and replace the television licence with a subscription model from 2027.
- The Prime Minister's most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, has described the BBC as the Conservative Party's "mortal enemy"; his think-tank called for a campaign to undermine the BBC's credibility, for a new broadcaster akin to Fox News in the USA, and for the legalising of political advertising on television.
- The Government's consultation on decriminalising evasion of the licence fee, published on 5 February, ignores the conclusion of the comprehensive and independent 2015 Perry review that the current regime is "broadly fair and proportionate", and admits that this would lead to higher, non-means-tested fines for evaders, the use of bailiffs, the loss of up to ś150 million a year in revenue, and up to ś45 million extra in collection costs, which could "significantly reduce the value for money for both licence fee payers and taxpayers".
- The BBC has played a uniquely invaluable role in educating the public on the coronavirus pandemic, producing informative documentaries and online content that clearly distinguishes safe courses of action from pseudoscientific, inaccurate proposals and misinformation campaigns.
- The strength of the BBC lies in its universal availability, its independent and impartial approach, and its accountability to the viewing public.
Conference believes that:
- As a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a vital and unique place in the UK's media landscape, with a mission to inform, educate and entertain across television, radio and online, unlike its competitors; this includes providing impartial news coverage, specialist education programming, risk-taking creative output, a range of original content, and content that reflects all the UK's nations and regions.
- The BBC helps to promote the UK around the world, being one of the top four most recognised British brands internationally, according to 2018 research.
- The UK's creative industries require a strong, politically independent BBC, alongside a thriving independent television sector, to invest in British talent and prevent the domination of the creative landscape by US corporates.
- The Conservative Government is not interested in a fairer system of funding the BBC but is instead seeking to undermine it at every turn to force it to cut much-loved television and radio programmes and online services.
- The Government was wrong to force upon the BBC the cost of free licences for people aged over 75, and all funding decisions must be subject to independent and transparent consultation in future.
- Dismantling the BBC was not in the Conservatives' 2019 manifesto and the Government has no mandate to attack the broadcaster.
- The current enforcement system means that fines are issued in line with people's ability to pay, but magistrates must ensure that imprisonment is reserved only for those who wilfully refuse to pay accumulated fines, despite having the means to do so.
- Every politician and party has their frustrations with the BBC's news and political coverage - Liberal Democrats included - but it is vital for our democracy that an independent, impartial broadcaster can hold our politicians to account.
- The BBC provides a range and universality of content that its streaming rivals cannot; platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are (according to Netflix) "complementary to, and not a replacement for, public service broadcasting" and this variety benefits audiences and creatives alike.
Conference calls for:
- The Conservative Government to protect the BBC as an independent, universally available, properly resourced public service broadcaster, and to rule out moving the BBC to a subscription model.
- The Government to maintain stable, secure and long-term funding for the BBC through the continuation of the licence fee to the end of the current Charter period in December 2027, and to ensure continued equivalent public funding beyond that.
- Future decisions about the level of the licence fee to be made transparently by an independent body to better ensure the BBC's financial, operational and editorial independence from the government of the day.
- Senior politicians, particularly party leaders, to make themselves available for scrutiny by journalists, such as through televised interviews and debates, especially during election time.
- The BBC's workforce and output at all levels and across all nations and regions to be more diverse and reflective of the country it serves.