Belfast Telegraph

BBC chief should go with his gut and wield the axe

We will pay the same licence fee - £145.50 a year - until 2016, but what can we expect in return? The BBC has been holding a series of open meetings for staff to thrash out the options.

Some radical ideas, such as turning BBC2 into a repeat channel and shutting down programming nightly at 10.35pm, have been discussed. The corporation has to make a 20% cut in operating costs to save £1.3bn over the next four years.

Forget over-rewarded top brass; sacking a few executives is a drop in the ocean. To make matters worse, they've got to fund a £900m pension shortfall, which works out at roughly £36 for every household in the UK.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, implied he was helping out consumers and competitors by freezing the licence fee, but you could argue we're being asked to pay the same for less if the BBC radically cuts what's on offer.

Value for money? The BBC is always banging on about how little per-viewer our favourite programmes cost - but will it be able to argue this in the future?

Look at the licence fee in the context of high unemployment and public sector redundancies.

Living standards are predicted to fall in the next two years and there are already signs that people have reallocated their priorities.

When people go out less, they watch more telly. So the BBC should be capitalising on our new poverty.

Instead, it is producing scaremongering headlines that imply everything from our favourite Wimbledon coverage to Graham Norton is facing the chop.

From local radio to snooker, from Formula One to daytime property shows, we're told nothing is exempt, except Newsnight and Question Time. Why should Antiques Roadshow be more vulnerable than Paxo? Beats me.

The problem with running the BBC is that everyone thinks they could do your job. We all watch telly and listen to the radio so, in our minds, that makes us experts.

What hardly any of us can do is make popular drama, long-running radio shows and factual programming that informs and entertains.

The most highly prized person in any production is the one who dreams up the format and makes it work week in and week out. Successful programmes are not team-efforts dreamt up by committee or a public vote.

So the first thing the BBC's director-general Mark Thompson should do is take off his Mr Democracy in Action overcoat and put on his nasty jackboots.

Thompson needs to take some unpopular decisions and make cuts based on his own gut feeling and his years of experience as a talented programme-maker.

Sod letting the public have its say. Last year, 6 Music and the Asian Network faced the axe. After pleading and petitions they've been saved.

By offering a cut and then rescinding it, Thompson set an unfortunate precedent. Now he has to present his proposals to the Board of Trustees in July and who knows what will happen?

Will the new chairman, Chris Patten, impose his own version? He's already said he doesn't want a chauffeur but will be using his bus pass; something Mr Thompson might like to note.

We don't expect mini referendums on the running of the NHS, the Treasury or the Foreign Office. Why is the BBC any different?

It's run by an expert - he should rise to the occasion.


From Belfast Telegraph