The future of the BBC could be an “empty lump of concrete in Salford”, according to Panorama reporter John Sweeney, who joined other senior journalists at the Edinburgh International Television Festival to call for an end to cuts at news and current affairs.
Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, in the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture on Friday [24 August], said the programme could not survive in its current form if further cuts – an additional 20 per cent to the 15 per cent already implemented – were to go through.
Sweeney argued that the corporation should axe its digital channels to prevent further cuts to its current affairs output.
Speaking at a session called “Merton, Widdecombe and Sweeneyâ€¦is this the future of current affairs?” the reporter argued that cuts would further undermine the BBC’s public service commitment.
“It would be better, I believe – and this is a personal opinion – to close down BBC 3 or BBC 4 than cut current affairs again,” he said. “If the bosses are serious about quality and trust, stop cutting. Otherwise the future of the BBC might be an empty lump of concrete in Salford.”
In the same session, Panorama editor Sandy Smith said he had not received any indication of cuts to the flagship current affairs programme, but acknowledged the brewing row within the BBC.
“It’s a content-versus-buildingsand- platforms argument which is emerging from the BBC, and I don’t think either I or John would disagree with that,” he said.
The less-than-expected licence-fee settlement led to BBC directorgeneral Mark Thompson outlining his vision of a smaller corporation, set out in a keynote speech on 12 July. The cuts are part of the spending proposals the BBC executive will present shortly to the BBC Trust.
Responding to the appeal by Paxman for fewer cuts, BBC head of television news Peter Horrocks told Press Gazette: “We’re working out how we can organise ourselves in a more efficient way through multiskilling and through sharing strong content between programmes to achieve the necessary savings without the content being affected too much.”
Horrocks declined to speculate on the level of cuts affecting television news, but said: “We don’t yet know what the saving levels the BBC Trust are going to ask.
“But you can be absolutely sure we will do everything we can to take the money out without significantly affecting the kind of quality and content that [a journalist] like Jeremy Paxman stands for.”
The appeals from within the BBC were preceded on Friday evening with the delegates being urged to sign an e-petition by campaigners hoping to stop cuts to international documentary strand Storyville (www.ipetitions.com/petition/savestoryville).
According to the petition organisers, the BBC is planning to reduce Storyville’s annual budget by 60 per cent.