John Sweeney has revealed his office nickname for the past few months has been “dead man walking”, and he was not surprised to have been made redundant by the BBC today.
Sweeney and the three other staff reporters – Shelley Jofre, Paul Kenyon and Raphael Rowe – for BBC current affairs flagship programme Panorama were given notice of redundancy today. Head of BBC News James Harding announced 415 job losses across the division today.
Sweeney said he is “proud” of everything he has achieved at the BBC since joining from The Observer in 2001. He said he wishes Panorama well in the future but is concerned that not having any staff reporters will give “management” too much power and undermine good journalism.
“I don’t have a God-given right to work for Panorama and Ceri Thomas, the new editor, has decided that he doesn’t want staff reporters. We cost money, et cetera, et cetera. And I think that’s his decision, fine,” he told Press Gazette.
“I also feel that if you are on contract it makes it harder to have an argument with management because you know you might not be invited back.
“There is a nice check and balance if you have a staff job. To be honest with you, it makes it harder to get rid of you.
“So sometimes I look at some of the stuff, the Church of Scientology and North Korea stories, where I think had management been able to fire me they would have done so happily. But in a funny way, once you looked at the whole thing, people watched the programme in their millions and said this is worth watching, this is good.”
On news of his redundancy today, he said: “The nickname for me in the office for the last couple of months has been ‘dead man walking’. So I’m not massively surprised. And I wish Panorama well, I wish the BBC well…
“They’ve said there may be some other jobs – botany correspondent, South Pole editor – we’ll see, but it feels like it’s the end for me.”
Asked if he feels any bitterness towards the corporation at his departure, along with 414 others in the BBC News division, he said: “The BBC is fundamentally a good thing. A good thing for the world, a good thing for Britain, and at the moment we’re being hammered by the newspapers every day. The managers have only got so much money and they’ve got to carve it up right.”
And on the future of Panorama, he said: “What’s going to happen now is they’re going to fly in people like Fiona Bruce and John Humphrys and the other big names from BBC News, and they’ll be there.
“But the programme makers will be doing much, much more work. Before, we’d [work on] the stuff. And there were times when we would argue with people, so ‘let’s not do that, let’s do this’. And so I think management gain, because they gain more control.
“But actually there is a downside to this because you end up with too much control. You end up with something which frankly becomes tapioca or a bit vanilla. Anyway, maybe I was too – well, nobody would say I’m vanilla, I’m guessing.”
Asked what he might do next, Sweeney said: “I’m in talks with the Church of Scientology to become their new PR man.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “Panorama still has original and investigative journalism as a priority. It currently uses a wide range of reporters not just those dedicated to the programme. It will continue to attract the best possible reporters both internal and external to tell a broad range of stories.”