BBC drops 6 Music and Asian Network
Updated on 02 March 2010
Two radio stations, half of its online websites, and up to 600 jobs could go as the BBC gives details of the most radical cuts in its history. Kylie Morris reports.
Gone are the days of expansion. Instead, Director-General Mark Thompson admitted the corporation should make “fewer things, better”.
But unions have already warned of industrial action. A campaign to save 6 Music from the axe has already attracted tens of thousands of supporters.
BBC Director-General Mark Thompson told Jon Snow that the "cuts" the BBC were making "are actually transfers into more money for children’s programmes and children’s content across the piece, more quality drama across BBC television, more money for BBC2 to do distinctive work.
"What we spend today on digital music, we think we can use it in other ways to deliver more quality to more users."
He went on: "It's quite interesting, absolutely, how painful it is when even relatively small specialist services come under threat."
He asserted that the BBC would still have "an extraordinary (radio) platform on which to serve the British public".
Defending Radio 1 and Radio 2 against Jon Snow's assertion that both stations could be sold off, Mark Thompson stated: "Both of them do things that no commercial radio station does."
And he went on to suggest that "some of our best stars" on 6 Music "could find a place on our other networks".
On the Asian Network, the BBC Director-General said it was trying to do "too many things".
"We believe we can spend the same money but actually serve that audience much better with a slightly more targeted use of the money on different BBC services."
Addressing the BBC’s proposed realignment of internet services, he explained that the BBC on the web was focused on news, children’s services, drama and comedy. And he stressed the corporation’s belief that everyone in the world should have access to BBC News online
BBC Asian Network DJ Bobby Friction told Jon Snow that other commercial radio stations in the UK offered a very different service to that of the Asian Network – some were religious, some were nationalistic, whereas the Asian Network was a "British Asian space – a space where most licence fee payers also live".
BBC 6 music presenter Adam Buxton says his show's listeners were supporting the kind of diversity the BBC is proud to provide.
He said: "A lot of shows on 6 Music have got an incredibly devoted and intelligent and unusually witty and creative audience."
And he asked BBC Director-General Mark Thompson where the cuts were a "fait accompli or whether the BBC will listen to people’s opinions if they’re offered to the BBC Trust online".
He said he did not understand why it was necessary to get rid of a station in the name of quality "when it's a station working really well and that people seem to love… It seems to be doing everything that the BBC wants to do best".
How the cuts will work
BBC online will be halved in size, while its budget and staff level will be cut by a quarter by 2013. Its content should have a "distinct editorial purpose". The teen channels BBC Switch and Blast! are also going.
The budget for American imports will be slashed by 20 per cent and plans to cut the senior management pay bill by up to a quarter will be "speeded up".
To provide a more competitive environment for its rivals, the BBC will also have to provide more links to outside websites, while BBC Worldwide will dispense with its British magazines sector, putting the future of publications like the Radio Times and Top Gear magazine in doubt.
Today's report, Putting Quality First, was compiled after a strategic review ordered by the chairman of the BBC trust, Sir Michael Lyons. It will now go out to wider consultation.
Former Director-General Greg Dyke, who is heading the Conservatives' review into the creative industries, described the BBC as "in pretty good shape, but...a bit short of friends". And he went on to criticise the level of pay awarded to the current director-general.
"Mark (Thompson) earns more than twice: what I earned when I was doing it. The staff are whingeing. Mark is doing some great things, but he is not taking them with him."
Union leaders are furious, describing the cuts as "totally unneccessary and politically motivated", an attempt to prove the BBC can put its own house in order, ahead of the general election. They are due to meet Mr Thompson tomorrow, and warned there could be industrial action over the scale of job cuts.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear blamed "corporate media barons" and said they should not be allowed to "begin dismantling a vital national service."
Fans of 6 Music have also begun a campaign to save it, with 80,000 people signing an internet petition to keep it alive. It has also won endorsement from stars like David Bowie, who said: "For new artists to lose this station would be a great shame."
Even the shadow culture minister, Ed Vaizey, who intially welcomed news of the cuts when it leaked out over the weekend, has suddenly declared himself a fan.
In an email which has been leaked to the press, he said he was "an avid listener to 6 Music. I suspect that 6 Music has doubled its audience. I had no strong views on 6 Music on Friday. I now know it is brilliant with a passionate and articulate fan base."