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BBC Cuts: Swingeing Or Super? Delivering Quality First, Er, Delivers Its Results

Posted on the 07 October 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
BBC cuts: swingeing or super? Delivering Quality First, er, delivers its results

The BBC headquarters in Wood Lane. Photocredit: Geograph

Everyone’s favorite Auntie will have to cut back on the finer things in life: Delivering Quality First, the BBC’s internal enquiry, has announced an austerity move that has caused much ire (and much whooping): it will be slashing the humongous amount of £670 million from its budget. That’s 20 percent; 2,000 jobs (1 in 9) will be axed, too. The chattering classes can relax, though, as Radio 4 will be protected, as will children’s programmes and news. All the current channels and radio stations will continue to live, but with “salami-slicing” cuts of between zero and 10 percent. Dance fans can breath a sigh of relief as well – Strictly Come Dancing is to have its budget “ring-fenced,” so we can all live safely in the knowledge that celebriddies will continue to prance around in spangly costumes for the rest of time.

The arguments fall basically into two lines: the BBC is a bloated quango that must be cut down to size; the BBC is a bastion of brilliance that should stay as it is. What do you think?

“It should still be possible to run an outstanding broadcaster on £3.5 billion a year,” said Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC trust, quoted on The Daily Mail.

More pruning! Neil Midgley in The Daily Telegraph said that Mark Thompson, the director-general, has thrown away a chance to let the BBC enter the digital era: he didn’t even have a straightforward vision for the corporation. He should also have been “far bolder” in “pruning.” He hasn’t listened to viewers, either: BBC 3, which by Thompson’s own account has “failed”, is to be kept, whilst BBC 4 – recently named “most distinctive” by audience research – is to be given the heave-ho. It’s a “piecemeal and populist” plan. The BBC should remember that it’s a broadcaster, and put its resources in video and audio – not in online Doctor Who games and the reams of written news on its website. It’s forgotten its ideals. The BBC should stop “squealing”, agreed the editorial on The Daily Telegraph forthrightly. The cuts are “modest,” and it’s time the corporation entered the real world.

Too little jam, spread too thinly. Tom Utley on The Daily Mail was spitting bullets: even after the cuts, the BBC will still have more money than the Special Reserve (that shells out for wars in Afghanistan and Libya).  Whilst he couldn’t live without “the Beeb”, as it was part of the texture of his childhood, he also sees it as a “bonkers” institution which, if it were created today, would have seen the prime minister carted off to the “loony bin.” Thompson’s cuts aren’t even doing what they should do – he’s merely “enfeebling” everything “by spreading the jam more thinly across the entire length and breadth of his colossal slice of toast.” But at least some of the “armies of bureaucrats” will be gone. Who needs jobs like “Head of Brand Guardianship”?

There’s nothing wrong with repeats. Surprisingly, Mary Dejevsky on The Independent agreed, arguing that a slimmed down management would “improve decision-making”. She also said that there was no problem with repeats – expensively made programmes should be capitalised upon.

Yes there is. But actually relocation is the real problem. We’re all going to have to deal with more repeats, like our American friends, said Mark Lawson on The Guardian.  But the bigger issue is “regionality.” BBC workers who can’t relocate to the north will lose out; but viewers will win as they get a bigger picture of the UK. The paradox is, though, that there isn’t necessarily a connection between the place a programme is made, and its content. Look at Granada, which made Brideshead Revisted in Manchester. The sinister sounding Delivering Quality First has raised more problems than it’s solved.

What about my radio show? The National Union of Journalists was against the cuts. General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet was quoted on Digitalspy as saying “Quality journalism and programming is inevitably going to be diluted. If the BBC presses ahead with these changes strike action across the corporation seems inevitable.”  Danny Baker wasn’t very happy, as The Daily Mirror reports: his own show on BBC London is being cut. The paper quoted his Twitter status: “So the BBC London afternoon show – current Sony Gold Holder – is to be part of the Delivering Quality First cuts. The logic of Genius.”

It’s a matter of perception. The BBC’s own media correspondent, Torin Douglas, was more equanimous, asking simply “Will audiences notice?”  Steve Hewlett, a media analyst quoted on the BBC, didn’t agree: “There will be all sorts of things that some viewers, listeners and users will notice and they’re not going to be desperately happy about that.”


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