At press time, BBC DG Mark Thompson announced that the pubcaster is eliminating more than 2,000 jobs in order to save £221 million (US$420 million) over the next three years. The goal, says Thompson, is to reduce duplication and funnel the money saved back into programming.
Media Guardian reports that 420 of those cuts will come from BBC News – forcing radio, TV, news and specialty programs to combine resources when covering stories. Domestic efforts will be hardest hit, although rumors say the West African foreign bureau will also close. (After all, nothing ever happens in Africa. Except in Sudan, Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone…)
But promises to allocate money for programming are already being fulfilled. As we report this issue, more resources have been set aside for besieged news and current affairs programs. Other planned additions include new posts for European and Middle East editors.
Hopefully, further good intentions will come to fruition. Regardless of what you think of the Beeb’s newsgathering – an Irish friend of mine refers to it as ‘the festival of lies and omissions’ – it’s hard to deny that the BBC has earned its esteemed reputation for quality journalism. And though he may despise it, my companion bitches his way through every news broadcast, yet never misses one.
Despite the pledge for reallocated resources, I can’t help but feel as though I’m watching the dismemberment of an establishment that has served Britain and the world since before the birth of television. It’s an institution, and a refuge for non-Brits who still seek information unfiltered by a North American political party.
On this side of the Atlantic, clouds are gathering. Unfortunate as it might sound, I believe there will come a time when we will look back with nostalgia on the reign of Michael Powell as FCC chair. I would be the first in line to hand Powell his gold watch and make sure the door hit him on the ass on the way out, but for the looming shadow of new chair Kevin Martin – the man who chose to dissent when a waffling FCC finally ruled that Saving Private Ryan was not too indecent to show on television. Under Powell, fines for indecency went through the roof. Under Martin – who favors further media consolidation – FCC hands will reach into cable, and public flogging is sure to become en vogue. (Just imagine what you’ll get for making reference to lesbians in a kids’ TV show on PBS…)
Jokes aside, if Spielberg’s honest interpretation of the D-Day landings is too indecent for Martin, what chance do images from Iraq have? What about stories on African genocide? What will networks – already gun shy because of stepped-up fines and review boards – do when faced with the spectre of a story that expresses unpopular or dissenting opinion?
I pray Thompson really does plow that money back into programming. I can’t be the only one desperate for a last gasping glimpse of real news on television.