Amid the rent-a-mob protesters at Dale Farm, the illegal travellers’ site in Essex, there was a BBC caravan. This was the base for the 40 members of the Beeb assigned to cover the eviction.
As you may know, the BBC recently announced budget cuts of 20 per cent. This will result in job losses and reduced resources. Given the ludicrous number of people sent to cover an event which other broadcasters were covering with just a fraction of the manpower, one has to conclude these cuts are long overdue.
At this point I must declare an interest. As a journalist and broadcaster I ply much of my trade in the commercial sector. I have done sporadic bits of broadcasting for the BBC, including a rather enjoyable Sunday evening classical music radio programme. However, I am a veteran of commercial broadcasting, where programming is often produced on a shoestring and still achieves equal, if not better results.
When I was working in Merseyside myself and another journalist used to present and produce three hours of live talk radio every morning.
Our BBC rivals had a team of seven, plus the back-up of a worldwide organisation. Mick and I just had our wits, a decent contacts book and an endless supply of Yorkshire tea.
My own experiences, plus the recent Dale Farm example, leave me in no doubt there is fat to cut at the Beeb, but that the axe is been wielded in the wrong places.
I know for a fact the seven-strong BBC breakfast programme team in Merseyside included a couple of people who were employed solely to take care of compliance and paperwork. Further up the hierarchy there are whole departments dedicated to such tasks. I would also wager a big chunk of the BBC’s Dale Farm crew were not programme makers or journalists, but clipboard wavers who did not need to be there.
The BBC cuts will see researchers, journalists and presenters losing their jobs; the numerous levels of middle management will survive whilst those at the coalface get the chop.
Critics of the BBC are all for the cuts, but this is short-sighted. BBC local radio is going to suffer, with chunks of it becoming national or regional at certain times of the day. Perversely it will be the commercial sector which will still provide a truly local service, but without the luxury of public funding.
Another area which will suffer is local and European political reporting. These areas will not be picked up by commercial companies as they are either too costly or too specialist. Politically this is worrying, as it means there will be fewer journalists to hold local politicians or the EU to account.
The BBC is an immense beast which does many things very well. As a public service broadcaster I expect it to do the things the commercial sector can’t or won’t do.
The BBC has a first-class global reputation which needs to be maintained. This reputation has been achieved through first-class journalism.
To the decision-makers and axe-wielders I say this: Thin out the bureaucrats and the celebrity-stuffed dross programmes and you’ll save a bomb, and with it the corporation’s credibility. To do otherwise would be irresponsible and unforgivably stupid.
* Getting in a stew
The autumnal weather puts me in the mood for a hearty bowl of stew. Can anyone suggest a local pub or restaurant where the stew is especially good? I’d be glad of any recommendations.
** Do you agree with Duncan? Join the debate and let us know YOUR thoughts.