Sunday 6 January 2019

Owen Bennett-Jones on BBC profligacy and one-upmanship

Yet anyone witnessing a BBC news operation during a major story would think it had money to spare. It takes more than thirty BBC staff to cover an event such as the World Economic Forum in Davos. For Nelson Mandela’s state memorial service, there were more than a hundred. The only effective check on this is the Daily Mailwhich, as part of its long-running campaign to undermine the BBC, sometimes carries stories about these excessive deployments. Managers, for whom the avoidance of bad publicity is by far the highest priority, are so nervous of these articles they have instituted a ‘star chamber’ which attempts, without much success, to whittle down the numbers. Such excess isn’t only expensive but counterproductive. Having so many staff tripping over one another in search of the same story means that potential interviewees – government spokespeople, for example – complain about being called by multiple BBC producers, each claiming to work for a flagship programme more deserving than any other. Occasionally a message appears on news staff computers saying ‘Please don’t bid for X – they have said that if they get another call from the BBC they won’t ever speak to us again.’ These problems arise because each programme controls its own budget, meaning that the economies of scale the BBC should enjoy never materialise. It also means that for BBC journalists, the real competition is with each other. Typically, a ten o’clock news correspondent covering, say, a US party convention, will declare it beneath his or her dignity to file a report for anything other than the national TV news bulletins or the Today programme. Moving down the pecking order, each correspondent in turn asserts their status by refusing to appear on a programme they consider beneath them, at the same time trying to get on to the ones slightly above. At the bottom of the pile, Radio Wales and Radio Scotland are generally served by freelancers who figure that whether it’s Today or Good Morning Scotland, it’s still £40 for three minutes. As none of this is formalised or the subject of orderly contractual obligation, the boundaries are constantly in flux and keenly fought over. In the midst of this, barely any thought is given to what media rivals are doing. For a BBC correspondent it really doesn’t matter if ITV gets an interview with someone. The important thing is that no one else from the BBC gets it. Given that the BBC’s news programmes, under ever tighter managerial control, increasingly look and sound the same, the only one that has a genuine case for deploying its own correspondents is Radio 1’s Newsbeat, which not unreasonably takes the view that all BBC journalists, except its own, sound too posh.

1 comment:

  1. Seems pretty pointless having any story for Newsbeat unless it involves sex, and preferably any not involving the traditional two.


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