Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
It was announced on Wednesday that the award-winning Victoria Derbyshire Show is to be axed by the BBC. Given that the Corporation’s public service remit is to “inform, educate and entertain”, this is a difficult decision to understand.
Its campaigning journalism on important social issues has won the show a raft of industry awards. The decision is reportedly being made on cost grounds, influenced by the fact that it only had 250,000 viewers – hardly surprising given it was on BBC2 and the News Channel.
The writing has been on the wall since the show was cut from two hours to one not that long ago. On the same day, it was also revealed that Brexitcast will broadcast its last edition next Thursday. This kind of makes sense given that we’re not definitely leaving the EU the following day.
The TV version will continue, though, and be rebranded rather awkwardly as Politicscast. And next Wednesday, the BBC’s Head of News, Fran Unsworth, will reveal her plan for the future of the whole of BBC News. Since the News and Current Affairs department has had to find £80 million of cuts, it could be brutal.
Radio 4 is bracing itself, with The World at One reportedly a big target for the cost-cutters. Expect the headlines to be about their online offering and a proliferation of podcasts. This is yet another area where the BBC hopes to dominate its competitors – just as it has tried to do in magazine publishing and radio.
The BBC delights in behaving in an anti-competitive way. Rumour is that tit is about to spend millions on launching music stations to rival Hearts 80s, Absolute 90s and Smooth. The natural question which follows is this: if the corporation continues to try to compete in areas serviced quite well by the commercial sector, how can it bleat about not having enough money to run their core public service remit stations?
All this is happening only days after Tony Hall announced he will be stepping down as Director General in the summer. Some think the timing is to allow the BBC chairman, David Clementi, to choose his successor before he too is replaced when his contract comes up next year. His successor might pick someone more ‘risky’ and ‘uncomfortable’ for the BBC – given that he or she will be chosen by Downing Street.
The corporation is facing huge challenges. Tony Hall may have had some successes in his time at the BBC, but planning for the next ten years is not one of them. He has indulged in the usual BBC bleating about the sanctity of the licence fee, without apparently realising that the broadcasting world has moved on.
We’re all used to paying for our TV by subscription now. If he had been innovative and brave, Hall would have already developed a well worked-out plan which would involve asking BBC viewers and listeners to subscribe to particular channels in the same way that so many of us subscribe to Sky, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The problem he has is that the licence fee costs each household the best part of £13 per month – way above the monthly subscription for rival services, with the exception of Sky. Would the government be prepared to cover, say, one third of the BBC’s three million pound budget if this was just to cover true public service broadcasting?
But even here, one uncovers a big problem. BBC Radio costs around £700 million to produce. You can’t really separate it out, and it covers a multitude of genres. There’s little doubt that Radio 1 and Radio 2 could be funded by advertising, given their popularity, but Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live and BBC Local Radio are surely what public service broadcasting is all about.
In addition, there is only so much advertising or sponsorship revenue to be had. Distort the market too much, and it would affect the ability of the commercial radio providers like Global, Bauer and Wireless to maintain their current level of service provision.
All eyes will now be on who the BBC board chooses to succeed Hall. The Guardian published a list of the top five female candidates, as if it was to be taken as read that the successful candidate must be a woman.
I couldn’t give a monkey’s arse whether Hall’s successor has a vagina or two low hanging testicles. Surely the criteria has to be that he or she is capable of doing the job and has the ideas to maintain the BBC as a successful broadcaster at an incredibly challenging time in its history.
The next Director General has to be a transformational one – the broadcasting equivalent of Michael Gove, someone who is willing to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. It needs to be someone who can be both inspirational for existing BBC staff, but also able to get a grip on a lumbering bureaucracy.
James Purnell, who used to be Culture Secretary under Gordon Brown, is someone who clearly has ambitions for the job. And understandably so. He is head of BBC Radio, education and the man behind the less than well-beloved BBC Sounds.
He has some radical ideas, but one suspects he will get the job over Dominic Cummings’ twitching corpse. If he is chosen, expect the mother of all battles between the BBC and Johnson’s government. It would guarantee that the appointment of the next BBC Chairman would be something well worth ordering the popcorn in for.
Andrew Neil? Sir Robbie Gibb? Michael Portillo? Oh, what larks.