Morale is low at the BBC, Birt says

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The Independent Online
JOHN BIRT, the Director-General of the BBC, conceded yesterday that 'morale is low' inside the corporation. He said a survey into staff attitudes towards recent changes, due to be published today, would reveal 'a deep level of concern'.

Speaking at a lunch given by the Media Society, a day after a speech in Birmingham in which he had to defend his reforms against harsh criticism by Mark Tully, the BBC's India correspondent, Mr Birt said: 'I'm under no illusion at all that there is a lot of pain at the BBC. I go around and people tell me so all the time. But when you have had to reduce the staff by a fifth, unhappiness is inevitable.'

He said people must recognise that things were not the same as 25 years ago, when 'they couldn't shove the money through the door fast enough'. But he insisted: 'I'm confident we'll get the programmes right. I'm confident we will have an open and accountable management. We want to bring the whole of the BBC together and unite it.'

Mr Birt said there was 'half an idea about that there is something not quite right on BBC Television'. Although its comedy was going through 'a golden period', with programmes such as Absolutely Fabulous and One Foot in the Grave, there were problems with the drama output and fresh thought had to be given to early evening programming on BBC 1.

He criticised press reports of Tuesday's briefing on programme plans by Liz Forgan, the managing director of BBC Radio, and Alan Yentob, controller of BBC 1, objecting to the word 'downmarket' to describe the programmes they envisaged.

The staff survey, the result of 150 questions sent to one-third of its employees selected at random, was carried out in April, four months after Mr Birt assumed his post.