You get what you pay for. It’s an old cliché but it applies to the BBC’s financial situation.
The announcement concerning the future of Newsnight highlights the BBC’s financial problems.
I have discussed Newsnight’s declining audience before and whether it had a future in its traditional form.
But nobody who cares about serious journalism or public service broadcasting can deny the vital importance of in-depth reporting and analysis.
The question is whether the way that journalism was structured made economic sense.
Newsnight has its own dedicated and respected team of reporters.
Other major BBC news programmes are principally reliant on reporters and correspondents who work across TV, radio and online.
They might be commissioned to do stories across all three platforms or on “reactive” stories they will have particular outlets to service.
It is vitally important that a meaningful platform is found for the kind of in-depth journalism which Newsnight at its best offers.
It is also vitally important to retain the skills of the individuals. Any compulsory redundancies would be fiercely opposed by the NUJ and would be likely to lead to industrial action.
But sadly allowing one programme alone such a large, dedicated team (with work which rarely featured on other linear outlets despite its quality) is a luxury the BBC cannot afford just now with the very real squeeze on its income.
Anyone who feels otherwise needs to say where the money would come from.
Should other BBC services or programmes face the chop instead?
It’s easy to argue that certain popular TV programmes or Radio 1 and 2 do not deserve public money while the market alone would never provide Newsnight or English local radio. But huge numbers of people enjoy these programmes and services.
Ultimately it is an impossible circle to square. The very point of a publicly funded broadcaster is that it does important things which may not make commercial sense.
The BBC needs more money if it is to survive in its current form.
There needs to be a proper public debate ahead of the general election.
Are there realistic alternatives to the licence fee as a form of direct public funding? The suggestion of a “household charge” added to council tax bills at a level which varies according to council tax bands is certainly interesting.
Or is a flat rate charge still the least worst option? And if so what should the charge be?
There would seem to be a high chance at present of a Labour government after the next election. What will be in their manifesto?
Will they keep the licence fee? Commit to a one-off restorative rise? Then annual rises in line with inflation?
Or would this simply give political opponents an opportunity to say a Labour government would cost voters money?
It’s not an easy time for all of us who care about public service broadcasting.
It must be efficiently run and provide best value for money.
But serious journalism must always be at its heart, even if we can discuss how it is best provided.
PICTURED: Newsnight logo. COPYRIGHT: BBC.