Stephen Glover: Economies are a reality even the BBC must face

Media Studies: The economies the BBC is belatedly having to contemplate were accepted long ago by other media organisations

The BBC is fretting about having to cut its costs by some 20 per cent over five years. Last week its director-general, Mark Thompson, mentioned 21 areas where cutbacks might be made. There seem likely to be (even) more repeats. BBC2 may shut down at midnight. Dear God, even Graham Norton's Friday night chat show is reportedly not safe. Meanwhile the Corporation's world news editor, Jon Williams, bleats that his budget for covering foreign news ran out "some time ago". He has already exceeded his "agreed overspend" (a strange concept, that) and would like Mr Thompson to bail him out. He says he has no cash because of an unprecedented spate of long-running foreign stories.

Does it occur to Mr Williams that other news organisations, from Sky News to ITN to many national newspapers, have also been required to cover the same stories? It is as though he is the sole unfortunate victim. I might feel sorrier for him if I had not been told that the BBC had 40 people on the ground covering last autumn's Chilean mining drama, on which it spent nearly £200,000.

Welcome to the real world. The economies the BBC is belatedly having to contemplate were accepted long ago by other media organisations, including all newspapers, which have to fend for themselves in the commercial sector. It was only when the Coalition unveiled its spending review last autumn, and George Osborne announced that the licence fee would be frozen for six years, that the penny finally began to drop.

But, my, what a time they had during the long binge years! The executives paid themselves whopping salaries. Even now, 135 of them receive more than the Prime Minister. Their expenses even rose during a recession that was described by the BBC as the most serious economic crisis for 80 years. Five-star hotels have been de rigeur for executives' trips abroad. One chap called Erik Huggers spent £627 and £538 on two taxi trips during a single visit to California.

As for the "stars", we all remember Jonathan Ross's three-year, £18 million deal. The man who negotiated that contract was Peter Fincham, who ran BBC1 for two years. In a radio interview on Radio 5 Live last week, he said that when he started his job he was told that he would "struggle to spend" his channel's budget, which is over £1.1 billion a year. Mr Fincham now works for ITV, and may be trying to win points by emphasising the BBC's prodigality. But don't the facts speak for themselves?

I believe the BBC can undergo cuts of 20 per cent without harming itself. Sack some executives, and reduce the salaries of those who remain. Halve expenses. (The BBC spent £13.3 million on taxis last year, including £2,000 a week ferrying Match of the Day pundits back to their homes.) Merge BBC4 with BBC2 – the former is much better, and does what the latter should be doing. It won't matter if BBC2 closes down during the afternoon or after midnight. Reduce the number of journalists sent abroad. (Some 430 staff were sent to cover the Beijing Olympics in 2008!) Just do some of the things that other media organisations have been doing for years.

Yet there is one part of the Corporation that has not enjoyed these bumper salaries and expenses for executives and "stars": the BBC World Service. It used to be funded by the Foreign Office but the Coalition has foolishly transferred it to the BBC – foolishly because the World Service is a long way down the food chain at the Corporation, and there is in any case no reason why the licence payer should fund a service which he or she does not listen to.

The relatively frugal World Service is being treated more harshly than the rest of the BBC, which has so much more fat to shed. A quarter of World Service jobs are due to be lost over the next three years, yet Mr Thompson said last week that reports that the BBC itself was planning to lay off 25 per cent of its staff were "complete bollocks". The BBC, which has blithely estimated that the number of people listening to the World Service every week will decline from 180 million to 150 million once the cuts bite, would never countenance a fall in its domestic audience of such proportions.

So far as I am concerned, the World Service is the best thing about the Corporation, a vestige of the high and noble ideals that once animated the entire organisation. We needn't worry about the cuts being visited on the bloated BBC – it will survive and thrive – but we should be concerned about the shrinking of the World Service, which is a force for good in many parts of the world, including some very dark corners, and the best advertisement there could be for British fair-mindedness and scrupulousness. Don't count on Mark Thompson to defend it.

Who would want to buy the 'Express'?

Barclays Capital has reportedly approached Richard Desmond to discover whether he might be prepared to sell his newspapers and magazines. According to Media Guardian last week, it was not sent away with a flea in its ear.

Mr Desmond might seem an unlikely seller of OK!, which is profitable, or the Daily Star, which is less so. But it seems perfectly plausible that he might want to offload the Daily Express, which continues to lose sales despite price cutting and promotion, and may never make decent profits again. There have been unproductive discussions with at least one newspaper group about the Express.

But who would buy it? It is unlikely to appeal to a billionaire trophy-hunter since it has lost the kudos it once had. The Daily Mail might conceivably be interested but why would it pay good money for something that could one day fall into its hands for much less? My guess is that Mr Desmond, who acquired Channel 5 last year, may be tiring of print, but, if he has, he may not find it easy to find a buyer for the Daily Express.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager

£40 - 48k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Manager to join...

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?