Today editor Sarah Sands has dismissed claims the Radio 4 news and current affairs programme is “in crisis” after new audience figures showed it had lost 800,000 listeners in a year.
Today has 7m listeners, according to the latest RAJAR audience figures covering April to June this year, published yesterday, down from a record 7.82m on the same period last year – a fall of 10.5 per cent.
The BBC put the drop down to a stabilising listenership following a frenetic news agenda last Spring that included a snap general election, the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and terror attacks in Manchester and London.
Writing in the Telegraph today, Sands said claims the programme is biased in its coverage of Brexit and that since she became editor in January 2017 she had introduced “soft features” over hard news, were “pressed into service of an easy story: ‘The Today programme is in crisis.’ We’re not.”
She added: “News programmes fluctuate according to the news.
“A devoted, hard-working, modestly sized team of reporters, producers and presenters works flat out, on horrible rotas, to try to set up the day for some seven million listeners.”
The main roster of Today programme presenters includes some of the BBC’s highest-paid journalists, with John Humphrys (salary of up to £409,999), Nick Robinson (£259,999) , Mishal Husain (£229,999) and Martha Kearney (£209,999) and Justin Webb (£169,999).
Humphreys is frequently the subject of accusations that he is pro-Brexit in his approach to interviews with leading political and industry figures.
Former Evening Standard editor Sands said in the Telegraph: “As the political debate intensifies, more people now seem to regard as intolerable any discussion of views they do not hold…
“We invite on a wide variety of figures to interrogate their views, yet a social media-savvy section of the public believe that representation is endorsement.”
She added: “Accusations are repeated until they form a ‘narrative’.
“When things were quiet after that first, frantic summer, we looked at some non-political subjects in more depth: athletics, Silicon Valley, the multi-billion-pound business of British fashion.
“A former editor of the programme wrote that this signalled the end of serious news. Ever since, I have been the new woman editor who introduced soft features.”
She added: “News is a challenge for all of us, not least the newspaper industry, which wrestles with an alarming decline in sales.
“The issues could not be more important. We have seen in the political events of the last two years what happens when media fail to report all strands of opinion.
“The task for all of us is to try to keep people engaged.”