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Cost-cutting at the BBC

by Helen Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 03:43:02 AM EST

I saw in Magnifico's news round up today a brief mention of the imminence of the next round of cuts to be announced at the BBC and it reminded me I'd promised a diary on this.

As most of you are aware I was, until recently, employed by the BBC in the News IT departments and have seen the department's waste at close quarters. And believe me, they waste it like water. To be honest, I could only smile when I saw Martin Bell's comments within the piece;-

Former foreign correspondent Martin Bell said: 'The BBC is its own worst enemy when it deploys its resources wastefully, sending rival correspondents to cover the same event or flying presenters overseas to stand on rooftops. If it used them more sensibly, it might find some cuts are unnecessary. But I am a defender of the BBC's independence and once that is under threat it's in trouble.'

Not just in recognition, but also that this barely scratches the surface of their waste.

From the diaries - afew

The best examples I can think of came at the last General Election. There is always a little competition between broadcasters about being first with news. The BBC officially claims it is more focussed on being authoritative, but at the coalface all that matters is speed.

One example is that they contracted stringers to be present at every count in the country to phone in the result as soon as it was announced. However, at the last minute someone panicked that the stringer might be unable to contact Television Centre without a mobile phone. Now, please stop for a minute and meditate upon the possibility that a British journalist exists who doesn't already carry at least two mobile phones. If you have never had any direct contact with these narcissistic self-important specimens of debased humanity, I can assure you that the one thing of which they live in terror is missing a story through being out of contact of their editor.

So there wasn't a chance they didn't have a phone, but an editor wanted to make sure, so bought a brand new mobile phone to be sent to each constituency count, ready and waiting for the journo. He got a deal from the shop (after all, you get a tasty discount when you buy 650-odd mobiles at once), so that in itself wasn't expensive. However, as he did it two days before the election, he had to contract couriers to deliver them; at a cost widely rumoured to be between £50,000 & £100,000.

Another example is that Newsnight hired a helicopter for the entire month of the election period to cart them around the country. Of course it didn't, they just used it occasionally in a few shots to give them a look of being at the heart of the action. But it was always available to look good on camera.

Yet another was the fitting out of an entire "election" studio with atemporary IT infrastructure so that, on the day of transmission, an entire body of political journalists, who had their own fully equipped desks lesss than 100 feet away, could become a backdrop for a load of talking heads. Of course, it's a tradition at the BBC to do this for elections, but with each election the necessary infrastructure to keep the journos productive becomes more complex and much, much more expensive.

Equally, the amount of repetition of work by different departments within News is legendary. Martin Bell is right when he complains they send rival correspondents to the same event, what he neglects to mention is how many rival programmes there are. Each requiring travel expenses, technical support, cameras etc. Any mundane story may have multiple teams covering it. The US government even officially complained about the number of journalists ringing them up at all hours of day or night (editors never remember that Washington is asleep for UK morning shows), all requesting separate interviews from the same spokeman for different programmes. Now there is a team at the Washington bureau who filter all the calls. Such efficiency is not replicated at Westminster.

Now News may be an event-driven department, at any time of the day you have to drop what you're doing to cover a breaking story. But News is also Planning-phobic. There are events we know will happen at specific times on specific days, yet somehow planning for these events isn't exciting enough. The trouble is that the less time you give technical staff to prepare, the more expensive the "fix" will be; frequently by factors of ten. It's also worth noting that, invariably, regular high profile events are often very big and require a lot of work, so a factor of ten increase in the solution cost can become a big figure. Yet year after year, these events are thrown together, despite the best urgings of those involved, at the eleventh hour because somebody simply can't be bothered to approve a budget.

And this goes on, year after year and nobody ever learns. Every month seemed to bring a new story of heart-stopping waste, of hours of overtime burnt because somebody couldn't be bothered to plan or tell somebody else what was going on until nearly too late.
I know I have mentioned very few examples, and have neglected the inter-departmental rivalries such as News teams covering major sports events (usually requiring the biggest fees), which most people think is the Sports department's job.

But Martin Bell is correct that the BBC could save huge, colossal sums of money if News planned a lot more and reined in their various editor's sense of self-importance. If they pooled their reporting a lot more it would help. But the BBC is set up in fiefdoms that are impervious to change and so journalists will be got rid of unnecessarily. I say unecessarily even tho' the BBC is stuffed to the gills with journos most of whom barely contribute to presentation or on-air broadcast. Output will suffer, not because there won't be enough people left to do the job, but because they simply don't know how to work any differently than with profligate staffing levels.

I guess not different from any other corporation of the same size out there.

Remenber you're a hero when you report public money waste, but you go to jail if you report private money waste (because it's a "business secret").

by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Jun 3rd, 2007 at 03:57:31 PM EST
Being able to spend huge sums is exciting. (Signing off on £100k of mobile phones, or organising helicopter hire - what a thril for a bureaucrat and a middle manager!)

Having to work late is exciting as well. It makes everyone feel pressured and important.

It's hamster on a wheel syndrome again. It goes on throughout business.

Being steady, organised, professional and efficient is so much less enjoyable than a permanent crisis orientation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Jun 3rd, 2007 at 08:55:32 PM EST
Being steady, organised, professional and efficient is so much less enjoyable than a permanent crisis orientation.

...and show's you're not 'hungry', that you have no 'ambition' and that you know and can do everything when it's needed yesterday and the ambitious ones can look cool and unflustered and get credited with the end result despite the fact that everyone knows that YOU did it...THEY get promoted and you get left behind because if the powers that be get the idea that you should be promoted what who will the mabitious ones have to do all the work????

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Oscar Wilde

by Sam on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 06:45:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do we have psychopaths making judgements about what people's actions show or don't show?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 10:18:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What I've observed time and again is that women will do the boring planning stuff just as a matter of course while men won't be bothered.
by balbuz on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 02:10:38 AM EST
Great diary.

I'd love to see another one, carrying on from things, talking more about what you think the effect of cutbacks will be and whether you think there is a better way to do things.

I don't personally believe that this kind of waste is inherent to large public-sector organisations, but it remains an ongoing and difficult problem in a number of areas.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 03:51:23 AM EST
By "inherent to", do you mean particular or restricted to?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 05:04:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or "inevitable in"?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 05:04:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In fact, I've heard arguments about "all of the above" and I reject them all.

I know, from empirical observation, that private organisations can be just as wasteful.

I know, from empirical observation, that public organisations do not have to be unreasonably wasteful.

But, I have to admit, that the British experience has been that these things are a major challenge for large British public sector organisations. And we need to develop further the alternative narrative of how to address this problem, as the right only proposes privatisation...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 05:45:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of my bugbears with public organisations is the huge amount that is spent on committees (and management too) - first class travel, 4 or 5 star hotels and in many cases a daily rate for attending committees or events.

I currently hold a public appointment and always request standard class train journeys and give enough time for tickets to be booked in advance to keep the costs down. I was a stakeholder representative a few years ago for another committee which seemed even more wasteful with luxuries that we can really get by without, but that comes from some kind of middle class elitism rather than poor planning.

In the back of my head, always, is - "this is public money"...

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 06:52:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I may do such a diary, but given the variety of possible outcomes I'd be bound to be wrong.

However, I'd take a variation of the claud cockburn principle of government policy; in trying to predict what will happen simply extrapolate to the worst, most craven, compromise imaginable. The areas of greatest waste, ie flagship programmes will remain largely untouched, just a few redundancies to show willing. The areas of least waste, ie minority programmes run on a shoe-string will face a wholesale axing.

However, less visible, but with more catastrophic long-term impact, will be the destruction of the few remaining support services as the BBC concentrates of core services, ie programme making. You might argue that engineering can be sold off, but as we've seen with the IT services and Resources sell-offs, the contract writers don't know the business.

So they agree the current service with no concept of technological evolution. And every upgrade comes at a price...a BIG price. Plus you have a corporate service level agreement that may make no account of other reuqirements, ie News has a different definition of urgent to the rest of the BBC and so every urgent request from News (and there are lots) becomes a financial burden on a budget that doesn't account for it.

But i have a whole other essay on that

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 06:47:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The areas of least waste, ie minority programmes run on a shoe-string will face a wholesale axing.

Funny you should mention that - See Hear (the only Deaf/BSL programme on the BBC) has had a budget cut, timeslot reduction and has been moved in the schedule.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 06:56:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A significant amount of waste at the BBC is from the contractural agreements with 'talent'. Lead actors and actresses in hit drama or comedy series are known to have on year contracts without any further contractural commitment beyond the year. When the show is a hit-they negotiate new contracts but not necessarily multi year contracts with automatic escalator clauses. Someone like Robert Lindsay of the hit series 'My Family' has had 6 or 7 one year agreements with the BBC. Then again; who can moan about the actors making as much as they can. If the savings would be going into the development of good young writers, directors, producers; I would be all for efficient and fair contracts.

The first class travel arrangements of the BBC has been a holdover from its very creation and is a cosmetic way in which the BBC distinguishes itself as the most influential media in the world. On the whole; even with the waste; the BBC ethos is still to get the story which is no longer the priority of any other commercial international or American broadcaster.

The world would be a far more naive and ignorant place without the BBC.

by An American in London on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 08:34:36 AM EST
The world would be a far more naive and ignorant place without the BBC.

Oh without a doubt. My view is that the BBC keeps all other news media in the UK relatively honest. They can't make shit up up like the WaPo or NYT.

However, that is not to say that they couldn't do as good a job more cheaply by organising themselves differently. My fear is that they will take the easier option of retaining the inefficient organisation and doing a worse job.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 09:41:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My view is that the BBC keeps all other news media in the UK relatively honest.

Ooh, no. When I was in Tunisia I got to watch some TV news, and BBC News 24 was particularly good at presenting Atlanticist received wisdom.

Which is why we have Justin 'WTF?' Webb telling everyone that Christianist wingnuts are really quite harmless; and Zainab Badawi wondering out loud on air in tones of utter perplexity how it can be that a tiny minority of misfits might actually not like America; and an interviewer asking a fair trade proponent to justify their ideas in the face of criticism from "the Cato Institute, a respected economic think tank."

The BBC has often been notably sniffy about France and (somewhat less so) Germany too.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 10:34:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yet you quoted my watchword "relatively".

Of course the BBC has biases towards a western anglo-aemrican economic viewpoint. That's unescapable. But let's admit that the reason Sky is not Fox is because of the Beeb.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 10:40:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think Sky would work if it were more like Fox, though?  Fox plays to the most hardcore of the crazy Republican elements -- a group that I never ran into in Britain.  Yes, I know the BNP types are out there, but they're a very small group (about 1% of the British public), according to the election results I've seen, whereas I'd pin the hardcore Fox crowd at about 15% of the American voting population.  (They're smaller taken within the entire population.  Non-voters tend to sit decidedly to the left in America, which is why, I suspect, polling on issues reveals America to be much more liberal than its recent voting record would suggest.)

I'm not sure the number of people with an appetite for Fox-level journamalism are sufficient for a profitable channel in Britain.  And only a small chunk of that 1% would likely watch.

And, despite the other news organizations getting us the real story on (say) the lack of WMD and al-Qaeda links in Iraq, Fox is still Fox.  I think it probably goes more to profitability than the BBC's influence.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 11:23:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Prince Rupert already has The Sun and the The Times, so a TV channel with the same values might be overkill.

I half agree with Helen about the BBC, but I think it's based more on a fictitious and rather nostalgic view of the BBC from a few decades ago than the BBC we have today, which is a strange mutant hybrid of establishment noise machine, engine of confused private enterprise, and public service channel.

My point was really that the BBC is considered far more objective than it really is, especially in the US.

It's no Fox, but while Fox is nakedly and hysterically a pure propaganda outlet, the BBC is more dangerous still. It shifted noticeably rightwards after Kelly/Gilligan, and you can find it repeating many of the same talking points uncritically, while relying on its international reputation to give them credibility.

But I think what we still have some of is the idea of the BBC, even if the real organisation is only loosely related to that ideal.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 12:46:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you wholeheartedly on this; except that I think the rightward shift happened a fair while back,  people only noticed it after Kelly/Gilligan.

When John Birt was first in charge I think he wanted to return to the era of Weekend World with Peter Jay and the "Mission to Explain". However, I felt that this was already running counter to the infiltration of CNN 24-hour news standards of infotainment: First with news and bugger context.

Editors are notoriously "industry-fashion conscious" and all want to be seen to be the first to do things. eg, within months of Kirsty Young standing up on channel 5 news, practically every news programme featured correspondents marching around studios pointing at graphs on walls. So the idea that BBC News were going to do something dated and laughably 70s like explaining things was a total non-starter.

This is what is meant by dumbing down, and why News resists the idea so strongly. Yes, they feature correspondents reporting from all over the world, they get the best stories (ie sexy blood-soaked action of real-life people dying), but they would never dare depart from the conventional wisdom. Never explain something and allow the viewer a different viewpoint.

That's why they have the "Big Beast" interviews on News programmes. You allow a politician in to say his thing, you have another politican to say they're talking rubbish and then you tell everybody what they said. At no point will the BBC challenge the paradigm of their thinking. Don't confuse the audience, they're too stupid to think.

That's why Channel 4 News is the best on the box. They almost never do big beast interviews, but get knowledgeable experts in to discuss, dissect and ridicule the politicians lies and mis-directions. The BBC no longer has the courage to do that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 08:13:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
when I still watched news on TV in hotels while travelling, was that BBC and CNN (International version) were undistinguishable. They talked about the same topics for the same amount of time with the same info.

Some Israel/Palestine (or, nowadays, Iraq), i.e. US ME entanglements, the big summit or weather crisis or shooting war du jour, and sports and fluff.

No actual news.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 11:49:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In many respects, the BBC tries to copy Sky News in too many ways. The helicopter during the election is one example. I have another. I live on the river near Greenwich just under the point where helicopters have to wait to get Air Traffic Control authority to move because of the flightpath into London City Airport. The day after the fire on the Cutty Sark we had BBC and Sky helicopters swapping places to take the same aerial pictures of the now extinguished ship.

A similar thing happened when Blair announced his resignation. That time the BBC was lucky they were covering Downing Street from the north whereas Sky was further south so their helicopter missed Blair leaving via the back gates and Horseguards rather than the front and Whitehall. The BBC helicopter was tracking his car for a long time while Sky was still covering the front. We will see the same thing revisited when Brown goes to the Palace to "kiss hands".

by Londonbear on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 10:04:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Non-voters tend to sit decidedly to the left in America

That's probably true of many other countries. It is true of Spain, clearly.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 10:17:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Is this supposed to be an example of the high standards of reporting to which the BBC should aspire -  a few selected reports of alleged comments, out of context ? :-)

I don't believe the bit about "Zainab" - it's Zeinab by the way - Badawi - a very smart woman - perhaps being ironic, playing devil's disciple, etc. ?

One of the things I do miss is BBC TV - especially the docs and major series. Having spent a bit of time in the US I can understand the Americans who appreciate the BBC more than many Brits. For all its faults it's one of the major achievements of British culture, is admired around the world and still highly trusted in the UK.

"Twelve months after the damning verdict of Lord Hutton, a Press Gazette poll has
shown that the BBC is still the first place most of the public turn to when they want to
find news reports they can trust. Press Gazette commissioned YouGov to poll a representative sample of more than 2,000 members of the public. We asked them to name one newspaper, magazine,
broadcast news programme or news web site that they considered to be trustworthy. The BBC, with 624 mentions, polled more than five times its nearest rivals."



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 02:12:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They're not 'alleged comments' - they're clearly remembered, and doubtless on the record.

Maybe it's because I don't usually do TV that they stayed in my mind so clearly.

As for being trusted - I'm sure a few years ago Fox's trust rating would have been comparably high in the US.

Being trusted isn't the same as being trustworthy, obviously.

A few years ago I might have agreed with your rating of the BBC. It's only since I've been spending time on here and on dKos that it's obvious how slanted the angles from the BBC really are.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 04:13:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"They're not 'alleged comments' - they're clearly remembered, and doubtless on the record."

But you didn't cite the record, so they remain alleged.

"Maybe it's because I don't usually do TV that they stayed in my mind so clearly."

You believing that you remember them accurately isn't the same as being accurate, obviously.

AS I said I'm sure you're wrong about Badawi - but without more information we can't establish the truth.

"As for being trusted - I'm sure a few years ago Fox's trust rating would have been comparably high in the US."

No comparison: "Asked which news source they most trusted, 11 percent of Americans named Fox News"


"Being trusted isn't the same as being trustworthy, obviously."

No but it is SOME evidence - more than you provide - and on the other side we have - YOUR opinion. Somehow I didn't think you'd take any notice of a representative selection of other opinions. Do you have any evidence, apart from a few scattered memories of things you objected to, that in general isn't trustworthy? It is one of the most carefully monitored institutions, both internally and externally.

"A few years ago I might have agreed with your rating of the BBC. It's only since I've been spending time on here and on dKos that it's obvious how slanted the angles from the BBC really are."

Sometimes are.

Obviously people don't tend to use here and Dkos to say "the BBC did a pretty accurate set of reports today", any more than the BBC news says "Most cities in the UK were quite peaceful today."

Also of course, the Right and the Government claim the BBC is "obviously" slanted the other way.

 I'm very aware of problems with some of the BBC's reporting. Years ago I read and discussed with students the many careful research reports about and criticim of the BBC by the Glasgow University Media Group. I also think medialens make some valid criticisms, but they too over-generalize; from their site one would think the BBC was Fox news.  

I think the impression most people have in the UK that the BBC is one of the most trustworthy sources is, in general, well-founded. But they tend to get it in the neck from one side or the other whatever they say.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 07:39:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tonight (4th June 2007) I saw a snippet of BBC's Newsnight.  In the snippet I saw, the overall tone was that Vladimir Putin was becoming more aggressive (scary!)  Why?  A map was displayed which showed Europe, Russia, and various borders including those of Iran and North Korea.

"The Americans wish to place defensive missiles in the Czech Republic" said the reporter "against missile attacks from Iran and North Korea", which grew bolder on the screen.

No comment WHATSOEVER about the likelihood or the political logic or ANYTHING about this statement.

"In response," continued the journalist, "Russia tested missiles along its border"--followed by pictures of missiles springing up on the now highlighted border between Russia and...us!  Because the next comment was, "Russia has now decided it needs to target european cities with nuclear warheads."

And up they sprouted, malicious mushrooms.

And no, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence.  But maybe you could watch the Newsnight broadcast from their web page?

The national BBC is sick.  Regionally, they seem to be doing okay (from where I get to listen), but their news teams have NO ANCHOR WHATSOEVER.  We're doing torture.  Are they supposed to be outraged?  Hey, they're supposed to be BALANCED.  And the historic webs of intrigue that support ALL stories...are too complicated.  Where be the balance?  In the mouths of spokespeople X, Y, and Z.  It's a joke.  It's like the old story about "When your name gets in the paper, you'll realise how wrong they are."  I've been named in a paper once, when I was fourteen and came twenty fourth (maybe) in a cross-country race.  I was "Raplph".

You can guess that here lay the first moment in my life when I became Ralph.  Such is the news from uninformed journalists.  And the BBC journalists live, it seems, in their Ivory Tower with their political mates, and some know full well what's happening, so the good programmes are still out there, and serious wires can be buzzed...

...but, pace DoDo's excellent diary, there's nothing complicated here.  Nothing you wouldn't expect from a second year student if you were the marking professor.  Historical knowledge; connecting statement to statement, looking for holes.

It's as if the BBC understands there's a wind a-blowing, but it can't get the idea into its news service.

They had a story this evening about how Tyrannosaurus Rex wasn't, maybe, the evil killer it seemed because new research into its weight showed that...hey!...it could only turn in a couple of seconds.

Luckily it had a lot of other slow-turning mammoth reptiles it could eat.  Wow!  News!

The complex analysis of who Putin is and what he is responding to...pffff.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 09:49:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did watch the Newsnight programme - and thought perhaps I will have to admit that this was one of their poorer performances.

But the poor performance was yours - in fact appalling; had you been one of my students I would have suggested that a university education clearly wasn't for you.

You caricature the programme and launch into a general attack on the BBC - having admitted that you only watched a "snippet" ! In fact the intro was an obviously non-serious montage of clips from the cold war period - over a song to try to make it clear it wasn't serious.

NO wonder some BBC execs find it hard to take some criticism seriously, and why I get exasperated at some of the "criticism" here - almost blind prejudice would be more accurate.

Let me emphasize again that I AM aware of years of serious academic criticism of the BBC, and other media institutions, as well as having my own criticisms. But I try to make sure that at least I watch a whole programme before attacking it.

After the brief montage the serious part began - all 22 minutes of it ! - starting with an overview by the very smart Mark Urban, who has been doing excellent reports for years, as was this.

Then they had a report from their correspondent in Moscow on how Putin saw things and the changes in Russia which have made it more confident, even aggressive, etc.

Then they had a studio discussion with someone from the US embassy, a Russian journalist, and British historian expert on Russia, and on a link from Moscow an opponent of Putin. Kirsty Wark, also very smart, chaired it and it was an informative discussion.

It concluded with Robert Service the historian, saying that politically Putin had been brilliant; his threat had provided a smokescreen, so there had been no mention of Chechnya, press freedom in Russia, etc.

You certainly DID get complex analysis of who Putin is and what he is responding to - but you chose not to watch it.

As to your point about the T. Rex story tonight, in the rest of the Newsnight which you didn't watch, they had a piece on the loss of the rainforests and a scheme to sell acres of them to individuals who could fly in to see them - but only via Google Earth. As the organizer said, at least it's a start and it has drawn attention to the problem again. Wark was probing, but this allowed the guy to explain his scheme and the scale of the problem.

Then they had a major piece on the anniversary of the 6 Day War by the also excellent and very experienced Jeremy Bowen (I think the Israelis have complained about him, as they have about most BBC correspondents and refused to co-operate with some for a time).

 Had you watched the first "snippet" you might have thought it a bit favourable to the Israelis - but of course nobody in a serious forum like Eurotrib would judge a programme on a "snippet" - would they ?

But he then went on to say that the view of little David Israel defeating the Goliath Arabs was a myth - British and US intelligence services had predicted a quick victory, given the Israeli weaponry etc; and they ensured victory on the first day by a surprise attack destroying most of the Arab planes on the ground - not generally referred to as a day that will live in infamy, etc.  

He then had a Palestinian give their point of view particularly about Jerusalem. Then an Israeli historian, critical of Israel trying to hold on to the territory conquered: "Some sobered up in a few days, some after weeks, some took 36 years before admitting they couldn't hold on to them."

 They had an Israeli ex soldier and settler who hardly came over as sympatheic in the bit shown, when he said: "When one side wins they tell the weaker side what to do."

Then a Palestinian writer who's written a book about the effects of the settlements on his area, followed by a UN guy who's monitored the growth of the settlements and related military bases, the restricted roads, the Wall and the problems this creates for the Palestinians. Then more informed, quite critical analysis from Bowen. This was pretty typical of a lot of the Newsnight's, good, critical, thorough (about 20 minutes) reports on a major issue.

I'm sure there will be complaints from the pro-Israel lobby - but I think they will at least have watched the whole programme. Try it next time. I suggest you apologize to the BBC.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 06:33:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did they have a section on why exactly the U.S. wants bases in Europe, given the on-the-face-of-it ridiculous story about nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 09:37:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm instead of apologising for attacking the programme without having watched it, you try to find something that might justify your over-the top criticism. Though even if this point wasn't covered it wouldn't invalidate all of the rest of the points covered in the 22 minutes.

The justification for siting the programme and Russian objections and the suggestion that the US wouldn't be happy if Russia or another country tried to establish such sites in Mexico were covered in the discussion - as you would have known if you had watched it.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 04:29:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted, what can I say?  I apologise for attacking the programme without having watched it.  Sorry Newsnight!  I unfairly besmirched you, sez Ted!

May I ask what reason was given for the siting and how that was dealt with by the journalists?  Would it be rude if I asked how much time, as a percentage of the complete item, this took up?  You see my starting point--the reason I didn't continue watching; I mean I actively turned it off so as not to watch any more--was an underlying assumption (which maybe wasn't there and only demonstrates my prejudices) that the worst a U.S. base in Europe could be for us europeans was "neutral"; whereas the worst thing we might get from the russians was nuclear oblivion.  Which seemed so painfully slanted...I wanted to know: Why are those bases being placed there?  And I didn't just want to hear the "official" reasons.  I mean, how would I understand Putin's statements without a clear idea of what the story is behind this it-seemed-to-me nonsense about Iran and North Korea?  And from my recent experiences with Newsnight I felt...nah, they won't get into that...so if I was wrong about that, I apologise and good for them and good for me because BBC news is more interesting than I gave it credit for: I'll watch more next time maybe.

So, I apologise and would like to know what you discovered from the programme about the "U.S. places missiles in Europe" side of the story.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 05:21:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 Well, respect man, as I believe the kids say these days :-)Don't you feel better now ? :-)

To tell you the truth I think they could have gone into that a bit more - but now I'm going on MY memory of the piece and brief notes I made. But they did cover a LOT of issues in a serious way. Try to get beyond intro snippets, in this case an obviously jokey montage of clips to illustrate the Cold War, and give the whole programme a chance.

The piece in the same Newsnight on the anniversary of the 6 Day war was very impressive for mainstream media (of course one could pick holes in even this and I'm sure Medialens did) but, as I said, the pro-Israeli lobby won't have liked it at all. Personally I'm glad I don' work for the BBC, the pressures form all sides are enormous.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 11:12:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't watch the edition of Newsnight you mention, but I wish I had. Generally I find NN to be a very good programme on european and far east affairs, moderate on the middle east, patchy on the US and invariably dire on UK.

They have a strong team of foreign experts, but their westminster group is traditionally poor and I wish they'd give it up to the Millbank (UK politics focussed) team. But I think that it's the "BBC-way" of doing UK politics that lets them down. Too much deference to big beast interviews and getting soundbites from significant players which dilute the inciveness of any report.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 08:29:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wouldn't it be just if all middle level and top level executives at the BBC took a pay cut before they started laying off people who weren't high earners?

Why isnt a publicly funded company required to cut their top staff's income and redundancies before they cut the people who actually make the BBC work!!!

by An American in London on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 11:22:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't understand a thing aobut productivity, do you? For workers, who are a cost, you increase productivity by reducing wages. For management, who are an asset, high wages reflect market prices for 'talent' and thus high productivity, and you cannot cut them or you'd be at a disadvantage.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 11:55:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia: "winner takes all" as an example of overconfidence
Many "real-world" situations can be characterized as a rank order tournament. In other words, prizes are not proportional to outcomes, but accrue to the top performers. In many employment situations, only the best performers are promoted - for example tenure in academia, or promotion to partner in a consulting or law firms. In such situations, overconfidence bias may:
* [Cause employees to p]refer tournaments and other compensation schemes where most of the rewards are concentrated at the top, and where the costs of failure are extreme (for example an "up or out" promotion system). The overconfidence bias causes these employees to consider the chance that they will fail to be very slim and to overestimatethe chance that they will succeed.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 12:13:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As an American, I would gladly pay a BBC license fee if I could have access to the complete range of BBC's programming over the Internet. (I would not pay a fee to get BBC programming via satellite or cable TV.) Because even despite the BBC News' many flaws and shortcomings, BBC News is often the only western press coverage in many places and, I think, their international reporting and interviews, for the most part, have integrity. I also like some of the BBC's domestic programming as well. My understanding is the BBC has never seriously considered expanding the license fee to make it a subscription for those outside of Britain.
by Magnifico on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 10:42:39 AM EST
They have some web-based services and are apparently considering expanding that, however that seems to be in it's early stages as yet.
by Number 6 on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 11:09:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Your suggestion is interesting since I have for some time wondered if Americans would consider the offer value for money.

In effect, the TV licence works out at about US$20 a month for which we get.

BBC1 and BBC2 - general TV early morning to late night
BBC3 - 19.00 to 04.00, generally aimed at younger adults
BBC4 - 19.00 to 04.00, documentaries and "thinking" programming

CBBC    06.00 to 19.00, older children's TV
Cbeebies 06.00 to 19.00, younger children's TV

BBC News 24   24 hour news
BBC Parliament - Feeds from the Commons, reports on European Parliament, Lords, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly

There are also 10 national radio stations and local radio (plus the BBC World Service which is outside the licence scheme).

There are no advertisements as such although program previews are used as fillers between shows. Also bear in mind that there is are a lot of repeats on the digital channels which mean for example, a show will be screened at different times over different days. The early am repeats are also used to broadcast programs with on-screed signing in BSL (Virtually all programs are subtitled using a digital system similar to close coupling) There are also cross-programming features like the "making of" documentary shown on BBC3 immediately after the week's Dr Who is shown on BBC1.

Is that worth a $20 a month subscription I wonder? One drawback I can see it that the BBC buys in programming from other countries like Australia and the USA so there may be problems in relaying those. They have also had trouble with contracts for actors to allow rebroadcasts etc and I do not know if the same would apply to a subscription scheme.

Some programs are also co-produced with US broadcasters (Rome for example) so again there may be problems over contracts. The good news of course is that you get to see these anyway. They are also revamping BBC America and including programs from the other nationally owned (but funded by adverts) network, Channel 4. Because it cannot subsidise from licence money, BBC America carries ads.

by Londonbear on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 08:17:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Is all that worth 20 dollars a month ? one meal out ? ! You cannot be serious ! -  as a notorious tennis player used to say.

Then there's the BBC web sites - all of them - god knows how many - want to learn French ? - go to the BBC, lots of options just for that - and free !

Oh then there's this news:

6 June 2007, 06:00 GMT 07:00 UK  

 BBC celebrates three Webby awards  

The BBC News website has picked up two awards at the internet's most glamorous night of the year.
The site won Webbys for Best News Website and the People's Choice Award for online news sites for the third year running.

The BBC's Radio 1 website also won an award for Best Radio Website.
The BBC received the most nominations of any organisation in this year's awards.

BBC News Interactive Editor Steve Herrmann said: "To win both the Webby and the People's Choice awards again this year is a huge honour for us."


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 11:00:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I presume from your sig line that with a crafty bit of satellite dish pointing, you can get those for free.

Actually it works out about $3 or so more than my mental calculation but it is, what, roughly the cost of a coffee at Starbucks a week. I suppose it was really a question of whether a much bigger offer than BBC America could be marketed as a subscription service somewhere in between.

by Londonbear on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 02:47:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So how do I get a job there, and a piece of the action? :)

(I'm in IT.)

by Number 6 on Mon Jun 4th, 2007 at 10:47:33 AM EST
IT has been out-sourced (I'm toying with the idea of a diary on that).

Only News, World & Radio Resources retain any local IT support, and all are under cost pressures and are not hiring. Also it's widely anticipated that these will be wound up in 2012 when the BBC amalgamate support during the move of these three into Broadcasting House

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 08:21:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting.  (The company I work for is mostly outsourcing. Increasingly off-shoring or "near-shoring" as well, which is bad news for some.)
by Number 6 on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 11:03:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
isn't it all relative?

living out of england, i really came to appreciate the bbc.

since kelly there has been a shift...definitely more right wing parroting, superficiality etc.

compared to the other news channels they are dull, and after exposing oneself to the other channels, dull is suddenly sober and reasoned!

fox would make goebbels wriggle with delight.

cnn, yawn...al jazeera has some good documentary stuff, like people power, riz khan interviews ok.

sky is medium ok, but too obsessed with sentimental myths like royalty, not to mention sports celebrities etc.

euronews is interesting sometimes, their culture mag is fine.

italian news...don't even go there...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 06:48:38 AM EST

What an informed, fair and balanced comment :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Jun 5th, 2007 at 06:58:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps (given someone's 4 rating for this one-liner - but nothing for my detailed critique of rg's failure to watch the programme he attacked) I should make it clear that my comment is serious, not sarcastic and that the smiley is just to indicate that of course this reflects my own views in more dtailed comments in this thread.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Jun 6th, 2007 at 10:48:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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