The axes could soon fall and the moving vans might rev up at the world’s preeminent public broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Company. A much anticipated BBC strategic review released on Tuesday calls for 2,900 job cuts and moving 1,800 positions out of London in the next few years.
Officially, the report is an effort by “the Beeb” to clean house before the license fee, through which the British public funds the BBC, comes up for renewal. Economically, it comes amid sea changes in the British media world, like the government’s push to switch the country from analog to digital television by 2010. Politically, the BBC conducted the review in the aftermath of its knockdown, drag-out fight with Tony Blair over how Downing Street sold the war in Iraq—a fight the BBC lost.
What’s the relevance of the BBC’s moves for American news consumers?
For one thing, those of us with a taste for Brit media (the BBC World Service on the radio or BBC America on TV) might see the content change, although it’s not yet clear how. (All the money saved by job cuts is supposed to be plowed back into programming, the review says.) For another, the BBC review espouses an openness to outsourcing certain Beeb operations, potentially to for-profit firms. That could be a blow to the idea of public broadcasting.
But the most interesting part of the looming changes might be the move of some BBC operations—like children’s programming and sports—out of London and into Manchester. The review casts this as an effort to change the supposed London-centric orientation of the Beeb.
A similar and popular critique of U.S. media companies is that they suffer from a Northeastern bias. Regardless of whether that bias really exists, the shifts in U.S. population to the South and West make one wonder: Will U.S. media companies ape the BBC and begin shifting more of their work from New York or Los Angeles to Las Vegas or Fort Lauderdale?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 7, 2004