Leading article: Bad news: the axe has fallen in the wrong places

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The Independent Online

That the BBC would have to reduce its spending was clear from the moment the Director General, Mark Thompson, failed to obtain the licence fee settlement he sought. The argument from then on was not whether the licence fee settlement was fair - we believe it was on the generous side for a public service broadcaster that increasingly shares the air waves and bandwidth with commercial suppliers. It was how Mr Thompson would choose to wield the axe.

Now we, the licence-payers, and the unhappy staff at the BBC, know the worst. And the worst is pretty bad, though not for the self-serving reasons the likes of John Humphrys, Jeremy Paxman and their more lowly colleagues brandished in advance. There will be a net loss of 1,800 jobs; Television Centre is to be sold. News operations are to be "integrated" across radio, television and online. Original television programme-making will be cut by 10 per cent by 2012-13. There will be "efficiency savings".

Not all of this need be the tragedy it is seen as by many at the corporation. Reducing the BBC's property portfolio is not only sensible, but necessary, given the planned move of several sections to Salford. A reduction inoriginal programming may mean more opportunities for new independent programme-makers. It may also mean more repeats. But repeats are not in themselves to be decried. There is an argument for saying that expensively-made flagship programmes deserve more showings than they currently receive, even in this age of DVDs and downloads on demand.

And while job cuts are deeply unpleasant for those affected, they need not have an adverse effect on the organisation. Leaner, slimmer, more streamlined, should not be a disaster, especially not for an organisation as large and rambling as the BBC.

The pity is that Mr Thompson has taken what looks like a straight bureaucratic approach to a spending problem for which there were other, more imaginative - and probably more effective - solutions. The layers of middle and upper management that have slithered out of responsibility for successive recent crises seem to have emerged almost unscathed. Yet it is in theselayers that editorial responsibility has been allowed to dissipate. If ever job cuts offered an unmitigated benefit, it would undoubtedly be here.

The only place where there is any hint of serious restructuring is the one where the likely effects seem questionable: the integration of news. Any viewer can point to examples of duplication. The trend to have a presenter coordinating correspondents' reports on major events from the field is not only expensive, but annoying. BBC teams covering international events tend to be far larger than those of other broadcasters.

Sorting this out, however, is the job of any competent management. Integrating television, radio and online news - especially the last - holds the risk of simultaneously weakening the BBC's authority in these very different media. Still more disturbing is the BBC's determination to continue with technology and product development - such as the iPlayer - that surely belongs in the private sector. Rather than cut back on publishing, the BBC recently bought Lonely Plant. The grand plan for cutting the BBC's coat according to its cloth suggests priorities that are confused.

Mr Thompson and the lacklustre BBC Trust have both done the corporation a disservice. They may have protected it as a national broadcaster and employer for the six years of the current licence settlement, butthey have done little to prepare it for the evencolder, harder commercial reality that will surelyprevail thereafter.

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