Under the changes, very positively dubbed Delivering Quality First (DQF), all new daytime programming will move to BBC One, with BBC Two broadcasting news and repeats of peak-time shows. Despite the solid, can-do umbrella term for the reforms, it’s hard to know whether the promise to deliver quality first just means it'll eventually be followed by broadcasting a load of tat.
Director General Mark Thompson said the changes would lead to ‘a smaller, radically reshaped BBC’. The technicians’ union Bect countered that it was ‘destroying jobs and destroying the BBC’, and the National Union of Journalists added ‘the BBC will not be the same organisation if these cuts go ahead’. Yet it may not, at initial glance at least, seem that drastic: no services will be cut, there are a few more repeats and some sports rights have been shed. Flagship BBC news and current affairs shows including Newsnight and Radio 4's PM won’t broadcast live from party conferences any more, so we won’t see Paxo cuddling up to Boris Johnson, and there won’t be so many BBC2 panel shows – but surely the world has to be a better place without Mock the Week.
Otherwise things are as they are – on the outside at least. Behind the scenes things are different. The BBC says this will be the most far-reaching transformation in its history. Another 1,000 staff will relocate from London to Salford, with BBC Three moving there in 2016, and many may make the move only to find their jobs are at risk.
While it’s bad for the staff it’s at least good for the punter: they’re doing this to keep the licence fee flat. But what about the future? Thompson concluded his address on Thursday warning that the BBC couldn’t handle a further reduction in licence fee funding, after a decade of cuts. ‘Another real terms cut in the licence fee would lead to a loss of services, or potentially a diminution of quality, or both,’ he said. Many critics would say that was already happening.
The other question relates to the future. There’ll be another licence fee deal in a few years time, whereupon the broadcaster will probably have been squeezed as it can get. It’ll be a case of upping the fee to be more in line with inflation, or cutting something that will hit the punters more drastically. What is it with the erosion of our national institutions? First the NHS, now the BBC. Next they’ll be telling us that they’re cutting Stephen Fry…