The BBC’s flagship children’s news programme, Newsround, will not be moving back to its original time, despite criticism from the BBC Trust that it has lost thousands of viewers in its new earlier slot.
BBC1 controller Jay Hunt said there were “no plans” to go back on last year’s schedule change, which saw Newsround move from 5.25pm to 5.05pm to make room for the Weakest Link after the BBC lost Neighbours to Five.
The BBC Trust expressed concern about the change in a report earlier this year, pointing to a 40 per cent drop in audience levels for Newsround between 2007 and 2008 as children returning from school missed the daily bulletin.
But Hunt, a former editor of Panorama, the One O’Clock News and the Six O’Clock News, defended the move at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch in London yesterday.
She said: “It is as important to me that the Six O’Clock News is served with a proper robust [audience] inheritance – that’s part of our democratic duty that we deliver audiences to news – as it is that we serve the children who come to BBC1 as well. You’re being pulled in two different directions.
“One option is to have completely children-focused programmes in the run-up to the Six O’Clock News and it would be quite hard then to bring an adult audience back to the news in any volume. I want the Six O’Clock News to be strong.”
She later said of the current children’s schedule: “I’ve got no plans to move it.”
Hunt also said yesterday that she was “relaxed” about clearing parts of the BBC1 schedule to cater for major developing news stories.
A fortnight ago, the channel moved forward Question Time from 10.35pm on Thursday to a prime-time 9pm slot in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
“I keep looking for opportunities to say: yes this is an important move in politics or the economic cycle and how are we going to reflect that. To me not reflecting those fundamental changes would be negligent,” Hunt said.
“One of the luxuries of having a news background is you can be quite fleet of foot about saying this merits clearing the schedule to do.”
She added: “At the end of the day, every time you do it you do have 200 or 300 people saying how dare you. I’m relaxed about that. There’s a greater good argument there.
“It’s about making a big statement. But you’ve got to weigh up the arguments very strongly. I don’t want to alienate a very strong heartland audience.”