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.

s.glover@independent.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there