BBC top management left unscathed amid further job cuts

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BBC staff picketing lines over proposed job cuts at the London head office. Photo - PressTV

TheBritish Broadcasting Corporationannounced Friday that it would eliminate 2,000 jobs, cut its sports budget, show more re-runs, and broadcast fewer talk and game shows.

Mark Thompson, the broadcasters director general, told his staff that the changes which amount to cuts of about $1.03 billion a year, or a 20 percent reduction in spending over five years would lead to a smaller, radically reshaped BBC.

Predictably, he is met with near hysteria from wide sections of the liberal establishment.

He said that no television or radio stations would be closed down and that some money would be reinvested in new programming and services.

The BBC is financed mostly through a government-approved license fee, paid every year by every household inBritainthat owns a television set. The fee brings in about $5.5 billion a year.

But after aseries of embarrassing episodes, including the disclosure of the huge salaries paid to bureaucrats in the organisation, the BBC was forced to curtail spending. Last year, confronted with a Conservative-led government skeptical of its financing model, the public broadcaster agreed to freeze the license fee at its current rate of 145.60, ($224), a year until 2017.

The steps amount to a 16 per cent cut in income, the BBC says. It has also decided to redirect 4 percent of its spending. Among other things, Thompson said, he plans to invest more money in dramas and comedies for the flagship channel, BBC 1. Its second channel, BBC 2, will broadcast only reruns in the daytime.

Some of the employees whose jobs are being eliminated may be retrained and redeployed, the director general added.

In addition, 1,000 workers will be relocated from London to Salford, near Manchester, where the BBC has moved a portion of its operations.

Unions reacted with dismay, saying that the BBC would lose credibility and audiences if it continued to cut its services.

They are destroying jobs and destroying the BBC, said Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of Bectu, a union that represents technicians.

However, Thompson insisted that after years of budget cutting, the broadcaster had trimmed its spending as much as possible and could not sustain another freeze or decrease in the license fee.

I dont think we could do this again, he said. Another real-terms cut in the license fee would lead to a loss of services or potentially a diminution of quality, or both.

IMPACT ON NEWS

The full impact of the proposals are starting to filter down into the newsrooms of the BBC, and it doesnt make easy reading. Helen Boaden, head of news, revealed that 800 jobs will be lost and that funding for Radio 5 Live will be cut by 20% including the loss of 5 Live investigations.

Insiders suggest despite promises the plans will have a direct impact on an already stream-lined news function.

Reporters, for example, will be pooled across Today, World at One, PM, the World Tonight and Newsnight. Currently these programmes have their own dedicated reporters, often working in competition. While duplication in back-office support may not be a good thing, competition across programmes often produces better journalism. Furthermore, inside sources say that the new, pooled team will mean three reporters will be cut from the radio-side alone.

These are the people that produce what the BBC management describes as the best journalism in the world and are the reason that the standards, breadth and timeliness of its news output form the bedrock of the trust placed in the Corporation.

TALENTED PAY
What isnt touched on, however, is the far more difficult issue of the many high salaries paid out to talent.

Earlier this year, under increased public pressure, the BBC revealed for the first time that 19 radio and TV stars were paid more than 500,000 and that a total of 14.6m was paid out to talent earning more than 1m.

TheBBCs annual report, boasted it had cut overall spending on presenters, journalists and musicians by 9m and that nearly a third of this 2.9m related to those earning more than 100,000.

But a deeper analysis of the report reveals that the cut to high-paid talent amounted to just 4.2%, a tiny fraction more than the 4% cut made to the BBCs overall staffing costs.

In other words, the BBC cut its talent bill in line with other staff cuts. So much for cutting back on talent.

The Corporation also paid out 65m to just 274 members of its talent earning six or seven figure salaries.

The majority of the BBCs talent actually earns less than 50,000 50,029 people in fact. Yet this massive pool costs the Corporation 140m, just over double that paid out to its superstars.

Many of those earning less than 50,000 would only have been employed for a very short period an extra in one show for example so the comparison is not totally fair. What the comparison does reveal, however, is just how much a small number of people earn.

Sources: Dailymail, Nytimes, thebureauinvestigates

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