The Reading Room

Public accept BBC cuts

The British public may not be holding French style strikes about the Comprehensive Spending Review but there is still some backlash against raising the cap on tuition fees, cuts to child benefit and the slash and burn of many local authority jobs in parts of the country where there is no private sector.

But there hasn’t been so much as a whisper about the BBC’s 16% budget cut. In fact, if I listen carefully enough, I can even hear a faint applause. The fact remains that the BBC has suffered a significant budget cut that would have been unthinkable only a couple of years ago when it was, in the words of Mark Thompson (who was then running Channel Four) ‘swimming in a Jacuzzi of cash’.

People rightly reel off the usual arguments about how great the BBC is with its first class news coverage (capturing the minute by minute drama of Chilean miners is what we have come to expect). Then there are shows like Doctor Who, Top gear, Life on Mars and the recent Sherlock Holmes series that are copied and shown around the world. And of course there is brilliant talent like John Humphrys, who I would wager is pound for pound the best interviewer in the world. I even think presenters like Jonathan Ross are worth their money as they have the ability to do things others can’t do.

But the problem is the bloated middle management who are getting a bit too big for their boots. A broadsheet newspaper journalist friend of mine recently pointed out to me ‘The BBC is the rise of the mediocre.’ He has a point. There are middle managers at the BBC now earning more than consultants on casualty wards, Head teachers of dysfunctioning schools and easily more than FT and Guardian journalists who are seriously clever and really know their trade. I often end up speaking to BBC producers that are getting a little too ‘creative’ with their ideas which makes me think they have a lot of money to play around with and possibly time. Talent should be rewarded but there is a mediocre middle in the BBC that is acting way above its station and I don’t think their pay packet is particularly helping.

The print newspapers were not sensationalist about the BBC deal either which is a further sign that the public has moved on. The Guardian was the only paper to major on the BBC having its license fee frozen for six years and assuming responsibility for funding the World Service. The Financial Times carried a page one story, while the Daily Telegraph and The Times published only front-page cross-refs. Neither the Telegraph, nor The Times, nor even The Independent, thought the story merited much space. None of them carried leading articles or commentaries by columnists (though the story did break late in the day).

The Daily Mail’s page 4 news story was very straight, eschewing any hint of glee following its long-term assault on the corporation. The Sun was restrained, carrying a short lead on page 2. The Daily Express and Daily Mirror didn’t seem think it worthy of big headlines For the anti-BBC press alliance – Mail and Sun and, to an extent, the Telegraph it is, of course, a job well done. PS.

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