BBC wildlife magazine editor quits in dumbing-down row

Michael McCarthy,Environment Editor
Wednesday 24 March 2004 01:00 GMT

The BBC was accused of sacrificing quality for cost-cutting yesterday after the resignation of the editor of one of its specialist magazines.

Leading environmentalists reacted with anger and dismay to the news that Rosamund Kidman Cox, the long-standing editor of the award-winning BBC Wildlife, is resigning rather than carry on working on a new low-cost version of the magazine to be produced by an outside company.

Green campaigners, writers and film makers lined up to accuse the corporation of putting profits before editorial quality in moving the magazine, which under Ms Kidman Cox has built up a global reputation, from in-house production to Origin Publishing, a firm producing titles such as Cross Stitch Crazy and Your Hair.

They accused the BBC of failing to recognise the importance of Ms Kidman Cox, a hugely respected figure within the British environment movement. She has built up the magazine's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition to be the world's top wildlife photography showcase, with more than 20,000 entries annually.

BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, has bought Bristol-based Origin, which specialises in low-cost, low-staff, no-frills publishing, and is transferring to it its three prestigious specialist magazines - BBC Wildlife and its sister publications BBC History, and BBC Music. The reason given is cost: all three have sales of between 40,000 and 60,000 copies monthly, but do not make money.

Since the deal was announced, fears have been expressed that cutting costs will mean dumbing down magazines which attract a loyal readership for their excellence. The transfer out-of-house from the BBC itself is likely to mean that staff numbers - about a dozen on each of the titles - will be halved and budgets slashed. The three editors have each been given the choice of transferring to Origin, or taking redundancy.

Greg Neale, editor of BBC History, and Helen Wallace, editor of BBC Music, are considering their positions, BBC Worldwide said. They face the choice of moving to Bristol from London, where their magazines are currently produced.

Ms Kidman Cox, however, faces no such difficulty, as her magazine is already published in Bristol, where it has long been associated with the BBC Natural History Unit. Her refusal to go to Origin after 21 years at the helm of BBC Wildlife is, therefore, the clearest possible vote of no confidence in the new publishing regime for her magazine.

A BBC Worldwide spokesman said yesterday: "Ros is resigning. What Ros wants to say about why she's leaving is up to Ros." But he agreed that the change of publishing regime "may have a bearing" on her decision.

Ms Kidman Cox declined to comment yesterday.

Tony Juniper, the director of Friends of the Earth, said: "Ros has created probably the world's leading wildlife magazine, and for that great achievement to be put at risk through some short-sighted BBC business decision geared towards cost-cutting is tragic."

Jonathon Porritt, chairman of the Government's Sustainable Development Commission, said he was "very dismayed" by her resignation. "It will have a big impact on the quality of BBC Wildlife, not just the content, but in the way it's printed," he said.

Richard Mabey, a naturalist and author of the best-selling Flora Britannica, has worked for Ms Kidman Cox since the first issue in 1983. He said yesterday: "I think it's totally tragic. The BBC have done this as a money-saving exercise and it is a misguided decision."

Chris Packham, a wildlife film maker and television presenter, said: "Without Ros it will be impossible to ensure the magazine's qualities are maintained. This is a further decline in standards at the BBC."

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