The BBC must continue to invest heavily in journalism and raise its game in the face of increased competition, despite a disappointing licence fee settlement, its director of audio and music, Jenny Abramsky, has warned.
Addressing the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference, Abramsky – who oversees all the BBC’s radio stations and podcasts – said the corporation faced increasing competition from the printed press.
“The fact is that all newspapers are going into audio online with their own podcasts and audio programmes,” she said. “This is a world of audio where radio is just a part.
“If the BBC is going to thrive, it has to recognise that the broadcasting world has changed. We know we have to be ambitious in more than journalism and use our skills in video, audio and online to make a greater impact.”
Abramsky said the broadcasting landscape was changing more quickly than anyone could remember. Drawing a comparison with the BBC of the 1920s, she said: “There was news, but you couldn’t hear a BBC news bulletin until after seven in the evening. The powerful newspaper proprietors of the day had argued that to do broadcast news earlier would undermine their business.
Market impact – where have we heard that before?”
Abramsky said the BBC’s three-year battle to renew its charter was “frequently heated”. Although the corporation faced some difficult choices as it came to terms with a “disappointing”
licence fee settlement, she said journalism was a vital area in which investment must still be made.
“For over three years, we have been scrutinised and challenged,” she said.
“It’s public knowledge that we were disappointed about the level of the licence fee settlement. It’s tough.
“But good, serious journalism requires serious public investment, and as we make our tough choices, the continued funding of our journalism remains at the core of our contract with our licence-payers.”
As an illustration, Abramsky said one of the unforgettable moments from last year was when John Humphrys presented Radio 4’s Today programme from inside Iraq. She said his reporting should set an example for radio journalists throughout the BBC.
“His reports gave a fresh insight into issues,” she said. “For me, that piece of on-the-spot reporting brought the story to life in a way that no news report could possibly do. BBC Radio must retain the ability, commitment and investment to produce content of that ambition and quality.”
Abramsky also paid tribute to veteran Radio 4 World At One presenter Nick Clarke, whose audio diaries chronicling his battle with cancer were broadcast on the station just months before his death last November. The number of listeners affected by his story highlighted the powerful bond that radio broadcasters had with their audience, she said.
“I lost track of the number of people who were moved by the audio diaries,”
Abramsky said. “The story of his last illness was deeply affecting by any standards, but there was more to it than that.
“It had to do with the relationship that he established with his audience through the medium of radio and the integrity that shone through. They felt Nick was a personal friend although they had never met him.”
Abramsky warned of increasing competition from the printed media firstname.lastname@example.org