False Comparisons and the BBC

Posted by Prof Richard Sambrook

This week Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, spoke to the leaders of the UK’s television industry at a conference in London to emphasise the government’s support for the creative industries. An important message.

But in so doing, he couldn’t resist the traditional jibe at the BBC. Referring to a trip to Jersey to meet the Commonwealth Games baton, he said:  “What I found odd was the number of people representing one broadcaster. The BBC had TEN staff in attendance, three of them reporters. Is that really justifiable?”

It was a line the press were swift to report. Part of his message of course was the need for the BBC to find further savings – something which many, including leaders in the BBC, understand. And in complaining about BBC numbers on location he was simply repeating the frequent allegations of the right wing press.

More people from the BBC than any other broadcaster? What further proof do you need of profligacy and pubic sector inefficiency? Except it’s a hoary old canard and dare I suggest,  unbecoming of a Secretary of State. javid

Politicians shouldn’t be expected to understand the requirements of multiple channels of live broadcasting, but a moments thought might have caused him to pause.

He didn’t ask what those ten staff did – so I found out for him.

As he said, three of the ten were reporters, the other seven were technical and operational staff needed to facilitate live coverage. This team prepared packages and live reports across two days on BBC One from Breakfast through One and Six until the Ten O’Clock News, the BBC News Channel, a half hour on BBC 2, Newsround on CBBC, Radio Five Live and Radios 2, 3 and 4, BBC News Online, Sportsday, BBC Scotland radio and TV, reports for multiple English local radio stations, and regional coverage on BBC Channel Islands and BBC SouthWest.

More than 14 million viewers watched the BBC One coverage alone through the day.

So the comparison with the BBC’s ten staff should be to combine the numbers sent by ITV News, Sky News, Channel 4 News, multiple commercial radio stations, STV, ITV West, and an online news or sport site. At least. Of course we don’t know what that total would be – but I’m willing to bet it’s more than ten.  The BBC has the advantage of being an integrated, multi-media broadcaster, but numbers have to be seen in the context of output and productivity.

Of course the BBC’s critics never make that comparison because it doesn’t suit them to do so. If Mr Javid did understand how broadcasting works, he might surprised that as few as ten people could produce so much output over two days. Except that wouldn’t suit the current political agenda about the BBC.

The BBC is far from perfect and certainly has scope to find more efficiencies. But let’s make the criticisms real ones, not based on entirely false comparisons.