Top cuts 

29 December 2008 tbs.pm/1001

Top Gear budget cuts will be visible, says Jeremy Clarkson’s partner

It now seems to be the case that all BBC programming appears to be fair game in the quest for further money saving, judging from these comments made by the producer of BBC Two’s top-rated show (Top Gear), so we can assume that all other BBC programming is equally affected including the likes of Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing.

And slightly more worrying still is what happened to Top Gear producer Andy Wilman’s blog entry, notably: “The entry was later replaced with a shortened version, with the comments about the show’s budget removed”.

The public excuse for doing this was that the blog entry was “too long” (!), but it’s not unreasonable to assume that someone somewhere within the BBC might have started to worry as to whether or not Wilman’s comments on the subject of programming budgets could be misinterpreted somewhere by a tabloid journalist. (Or similar.)

Perish the thought that the BBC may be attempting to surpress any attempt to hold a public debate in relation to the BBC’s spending priorities, or that management is desperately trying to keep a lid on simmering tensions within the corporation.

If BBC management has misjudged spending priorities, the current strategy of “keeping up appearances” – whereby most BBC programmes and services superficially appear to be unaffected by the budget cuts – could backfire again spectacularly depending on the nature of the next scandal and its timing.

With the requirement to “babysit” anything produced by independent production companies to avoid compliance mishaps (Crowngate, Sachsgate, etc.), as well as independent production companies draining money via their overheads/profits/rights exploitation, there’s less money left over to fund crucial BBC programmes and services.

Can the BBC – hand on heart – really justify maintaining whole services such as BBC Three and BBC Four when everything now appears to be stretched financially to a point when quality may start to suffer despite everyone’s best attempts (and intentions) to prevent this from happening?

The worrying thing is that another factual-related scandal caused by lack of resources and/or quality control could wreck the credibility of the BBC’s news and current affairs output to a point that’s virtually beyond redemption, especially given previous reassurances that steps had been taken to avoid such problems from reoccurring.

At least the next major scandal could result in the removal of Mark Thompson, regardless or not whether he was directly to blame for the crisis in question, especially as a change in upper management could be the only sensible way that the BBC could redeem itself as a consequence.