This shouldn’t be done 

15 February 2011

Apologies in advance to regular Media Blog readers for sounding like a stuck record here, but this sort of thing really shouldn’t be done at all. I’m talking here about the BBC’s continual insistence of making further cuts to existing services as opposed to closing down something more substantial that would save money without compromising quality.

Because despite so-called reassurances that everything will still be alright as a consequence, I find it incredibly hard to believe that making a 22% cut in full-time current affairs staff will have no impact whatsoever upon the corporation’s ability to provide any form of quality investigative journalism.

Put another way, if you thought that the average quality of BBC television current affairs programming such as Panorama has been reduced in recent years, then this move will do absolutely zilch to make this any better unless of course the number of current affairs programmes actually produced are slashed by half. (Or something.)

Substituting temporary/part-time staff in order to save money is always a false economy when it comes to highly important research that strongly benefits from long-term experience and knowledge, and such a move will also do nothing to enhance staff morale (much more important than it may seem to some people).

Having the experience to quickly distinguish between fact and fiction can easily mean the difference between assured journalism and being the laughing stock of the media world, especially when many so-called ‘researchers’ seem to rely on five-minute Google searches and Wikipedia for uncollaborated ‘facts’ that can subsequently be disproven.

(Not to mention the benefits of having a long-established list of human contacts as opposed to relying on search engines and hearsay.)

Claiming that such a move will ensure “a more effective balance between full time staff and people working on short term contracts” seems to make relatively little sense, all things considered, perhaps because such an issue doesn’t seem to have unduly troubled the BBC in the past.

This is bad news all round for precisely the sort of thing that the BBC really should now be concentrating on, especially given the commercial sector’s increasing reluctance to provide anything similar to what the BBC does.

Only Channel 4 can really claim to provide investigative journalism of any real depth and substance, and Channel 5’s OK! TV – basically just a shallow makeover of Live at Studio Five – incredibly counts as part of the channel’s “current affairs output”. Talk about setting the bar low!

It may be possible to claim that an obsession with headcount in the BBC’s case could relate to certain tabloid newspapers believing that staff are a much more wasteful resource than, say, production budgets; a common misconception which also applies to other things such as local authorities and government departments.

(Such institutions are often incongruously lumped in together with the BBC, even though local authorities and media production are two completely different things; Job Centre staff are not paid to be creative with something that will ultimately be seen by millions of viewers.)

Perhaps the BBC has got the wrong end of the stick in relation to the concept of “doing fewer things better”, because at the end of the day BBC programming will be judged on quality as opposed to quantity, and any signs of suffering quality will certainly mean that this pledge won’t actually be kept.

The sad thing is that the majority of viewers won’t actually be too bothered about any quality differences – especially those used to modern current affairs programming shown elsewhere – and complaints from people who care about these things can easily be ignored in much the same way as previous “dumbing-down” accusations.

So we will be left with a BBC that produces substandard programming combined with an inability to either comprehend or properly react to the concerns of its critics, which will make it an even easier target for future privatisation as a consequence.