The threat of thousands of redundancies at the BBC is a massive attack on broadcasting workers and any remaining prospects for independent news coverage.
The plans by BBC management plans follow ITV boss Michael Grade’s threat to scale down regional news across the network.
The cuts will mean fewer resources available for investigative reporting and are likely to result in the increased use of corporate and Westminster-based sources, leading to a more narrow and uncritical news agenda.
BBC management’s warning to senior editorial staff not to use airtime to voice their opposition to the cuts is a further outrage.
It is more evidence of the BBC’s timidity in the face of the assault on public service broadcasting following the Hutton Report in 2004.
Yet blame does not lie exclusively with senior management. Many of the recent scandals affecting the BBC are the logical result of an increasingly neoliberal approach to broadcasting championed by New Labour.
First, the government has long insisted that any licence fee rises have to be matched by cost-cutting measures.
This situation has led to thousands of redundancies and sell-offs in the last few years.
Second, New Labour ministers have welcomed the growth of entrepreneurial “super-indies” like RDF Media, the giant “independent” company whose creative director Stephen Lambert resigned after faking a royal tantrum in its documentary, A Year With the Queen.
As more and more broadcasting services are outsourced, it is no coincidence that we are seeing companies, who show more commitment to profit and dividends than to the public, engaged in dodgy activities and sensationalist programming.
Third, although New Labour keeps talking about the BBC as the “cornerstone” of public service broadcasting in Britain, it demonstrates its support in the strangest ways.
Gordon Brown’s fingerprints were all over the most recent below-inflation licence fee deal that has left the corporation with a huge funding gap.
The deal also insisted that the BBC alone “lead” the transition to digital TV switchover and even subsidise some of Channel Four’s costs in the move to digital – a requirement the government failed to place on the commercial sector.
Finally, and most significantly, the government has yet to forgive the BBC for its perceived criticism of the invasion and occupation of Iraq – “perceived” as academic studies have proved that the corporation was one of the least critical voices in its coverage of the war.
The government continues to punish the BBC – politically and economically – while right wing newspapers, with a history of opposition to public service broadcasting and the licence fee, talk up the “collapse of trust” in broadcasting and the BBC.
The BBC’s management has failed to stand up to the government’s bullying and neoliberal reforms.
Any resignations are confined to those who preside over the fraudulent naming of cats and not to those in government responsible for taking us to war on a lie.
Des Freedman is a lecturer in the department of media and communications at Goldsmiths, University in London and is on the national council of Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom
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