BBC director-general Mark Thompson has warned staff that the corporation “cannot offer people the same levels of job security” it once did, and that headcount will need to be further cut but not by shutting down its digital channels.
In an interview with BBC in-house magazine Ariel, Thompson spoke of the BBC’s “relatively tight” licence fee settlement, and dismissed suggestions that the corporation should axe an entire channel such as BBC3 or BBC4 instead of “salami slicing” across all its departments.
“We wouldn’t want to close a complete service. Having built up these brands it would be a pretty big step to shut one of them down,” he said. “We do need to do less hours of TV, fewer pages on our website.
“The BBC is changing. It cannot offer people the same levels of job security that it did in the 60s and 70s. Overall, our headcount is going to reduce further.”
A number of high profile BBC staff have spoken out about the proposed cuts in the past fortnight with both Today presenter John Humphrys and Panorama reporter John Sweeney calling for the closure of one of the BBC’s digital channels to avoid cuts in news and current affairs.
On the subject of the internet, the BBC, Thompson said, needs to look at its website “in a completely fresh way” and rebuild what has become “lots of little websites glued together”.
Thompson confirmed his commitment to putting the internet at the heart of the new BBC and said that the corporation would “increase significantly” its overall online investment, but it would still “be dwarfed by what we spend on TV and radio”.
“We need to reconceive a website that has been brilliant but has grown with a lot of the BBC doing its own thing,” he said. “It’s lots of little websites glued together.”
Thompson said the BBC’s position as a radio and television broadcaster meant the corporation was well-placed to cater for a web audience hungry for audio and video online.
“Now the internet is all about moving sound and pictures,” he said. “For the BBC, that’s our world – moving pictures and sound is where our greatest strengths are, but it does mean we shall have to look at our website in a completely fresh way.”
Touching on the issue of viewer trust and the recently discovered “editorial lapses”, Thompson said there were plans to add a new section to the BBC website called “How We Make Television” and “How We Make Radio” – which would give licence-fee payers a behind-the-scenes view of how programmes are put together.
He said it was “likely” that more cases of “serious failings” would come to light, but stressed that the corporation had “tried to be upfront” about the issues.
“If the public doesn’t trust the BBC, we don’t have a future,” Thompson said.