BBC deputy head of news Fran Unsworth: We have already cut £50m without the audience noticing a fall in quality

The BBC's deputy director of news and current affairs Fran Unsworth said her department had already cut £50m without the audience noticing so would be able to cut another £50m.

In July, head of BBC News James Harding announced that 415 jobs were to be lost across the division, with 195 created.

But speaking at the Royal Television Society's London conference today, Unsworth, who earns a BBC salary of £183,000, pointed out that the corporation survived the last £50m cut-back without losing its quality.

"It's about making choices, isn't it," she said while being interviewed by former BBC journalist and broadcasting lecturer Stewart Purvis.

"I seem to have lived through so many cycles of this. And yes this latest round is £50m, of course, we've already done £50m. Now, I challenge you in the audience to say have you particularly noticed the [fall] of the quality of BBC News when we did the last £50m?

"So another £50m, well, it's going to be tough. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. But I think the challenge is to do it in a way that the audience don't notice. And the fact that we've done it before gives me some kind of hope."

Unsworth was also challenged by Purvis over the BBC's coverage of South Yorkshire Police's search of the home of Sir Cliff Richard. With Harding away, Unsworth gave the go-ahead for the story.

She dismissed claims that this is not the type of story the BBC would usually cover, and described the suggestion that BBC News does not "break" news as "nonsense".

Speaking to Purvis, she said: "You as a journalist, let me just ask you the question. If a reporter came to you and said: 'Oh, I've got this story that South Yorkshire Police are investigating a historic sex allegation against Cliff Richard and what's more they've told me they're going to search his house tomorrow, they've even sent me an aerial photo of his house' – do you think it's up to me to say: 'I don't think we'll tell the viewer about that because that's not the kind of story the BBC does'?

"We should start from the question of why wouldn't we report something – not: Is this a BBC story?"

Also on the panel were ITN chief executive John Hardie, and head of Sky News John Ryley.

Hardie was challenged by Purvis over claims he made earlier this year that ITV News, which ITN provides for, has been guilty of "ducking" out of high-profile news stories. He said that he disagreed with ITV's lack of coverage of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee and also criticised it for handing responsibility of Margaret Thatcher's funeral to This Morning.

Hardie said that ITV News has been an "absolute leader" in broadcast news in recent years and said that these instances were evidence of the "reality of the commercial world".

Asked if the proposed 400-plus job cuts at BBC News was good news for ITN, Hardie pointed out that this number is more than half of ITN's entire staffing.

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