Leading article: BBC savings have to come from somewhere

Wednesday 23 March 2011 01:00
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A licence fee settlement frozen at £145.50 until the end of 2016 means the BBC must take some difficult spending decisions. To make the depleted pot of money go round, its Director General, Mark Thompson, has embarked on a programme called Delivering Quality First, which seeks to identify cost savings from across the BBC.

Some of the proposals are radical. Cutting original programming on late-night BBC1, turning BBC2 into a repeats channel, replacing daytime output on BBC local radio with content from Radio 5 Live, axing coverage of Formula One motor racing and, horror of horrors, not showing the Wimbledon tennis championships. Such suggestions have prompted predictable howls of anguish.

We have been here before. When, a year ago, the BBC announced it would cut the digital radio station 6 Music, a public campaign succeeded in saving it from the guillotine. BBC Asian Network, which was threatened with closure at the same time, received its reprieve this month. Mr Thompson yesterday acknowledged that the threat to 6 Music had been a "novel marketing technique", and that ratings have since improved.

He may be happy that audiences will rally around their favourite services to save them from the knife, generating publicity and an outpouring of public support for BBC content. Yesterday he would only say that the possible cuts amounted to a "set of open questions" and that some "frankly aren't going to fly".

All of which leaves the BBC's staff in a state of deep uncertainty over their futures for the next four months until this exercise is completed. We should give particular thought to those BBC journalists who are "running on empty", covering an unprecedented run of global news stories. The BBC foreign news budget is already spent and more money will have to be found from elsewhere.

No one could dispute that such reporting is at the very core of the BBC's public-service broadcasting remit. But savings are going to have to come from somewhere, and the BBC should be no more immune from the need to prioritise than any other organisation.

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