Paxman voices concerns over BBC


Paxman voices concerns over BBC
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Edinburgh TV Festival

Presenter Jeremy Paxman has voiced concerns over the BBC and the TV industry as a whole during a lecture at the Edinburgh TV festival.
He criticised the licence fee as a tax on the ownership of a television which he said was 50 years out of date.

Recent deceptions uncovered across the industry had been handled in a "preposterous" way, he said.

He also questioned whether his own Newsnight programme will survive if the BBC proceeds with threatened cutbacks.

The journalist added that too many senior executives were "less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines".

'Preposterous spectacle'

Paxman referred to issues such as phone-in quizzes which viewers were unable to win and scenes that had been edited to distort reality.

"We've had the preposterous spectacle of some of the most senior figures in broadcasting running around like maiden aunts who've walked in on some teenage party, affecting shock and disbelief at what they've heard," Paxman said.

I find it pretty hard to believe some of the television bosses when they say they had no idea what was going on

"It simply won't wash for senior figures in the industry to blame our troubles on an influx of untrained young people."

He also said the licence fee was outdated.

"The idea of a tax on the ownership of a television belongs in the 1950s. Why not tax people for owning a washing machine to fund the manufacture of Persil?" he said.

At the same time, he said, it was "something of a mystery" to him how there could be a "budget crisis in an organisation with an assured income of £3.5bn".

Paxman also said Newsnight, broadcast on weekday evenings on BBC Two, could no longer "make the films we once made" after its budget fell by 15%.

"We have lost producers, researchers and reporters," he told an audience during the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.

"Now we're told we're likely to have to make more cuts, at least a further 20% over five years.

"It is unsustainable and I cannot see how the programme can survive in anything like its current form if the cuts are implemented."

He described efforts "to get a single, important film transmitted last week" which had meant "surviving a sustained barrage of astonishingly aggressive lawyers' letters" as well as pressure from a PR company.

"You can't do that if you're replacing grizzled output editors with people on work experience, no matter how enthusiastic they might be."

He said there were too many people in the TV industry "whose answer to the question 'what is television for?' is to say 'to make money'."

'Media circus'

Paxman also questioned the judgements of news editors in deciding upon the significance of stories.

"The problem is that news is determined not by its importance but by its availability," he said.

"How else can we explain the decision to interrupt reporting of floods in Britain to go live to America breathlessly, to cover Paris Hilton's release from jail?

He also referred to a media "circus" which had gathered in southern Portugal following the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann, saying "everyone was there because everyone else was there".

"At times like this, when the television hurricane hits a story, it too often sucks good sense and consideration out of the brains of those involved."
I have to agree with most of what Paxman says. But I'm surprised by his comments on the license fee which, to me, contradicts his own fears about the BBC management being more concerned with profits over quality programming. Removing the TV license to make the BBC self-sufficient will only increase the obsession with ratings and producing popularist television to maximise advertising revenue.

The BBC needs to take a long look at itself and what it's purpose is. Its main concern should be with making quality programming. Rather than farming out all the television production to outside, profit-making, production companies, it should invest in its own production facilities, run those efficiently and make sure it employs staff based on experience and talent. However, the wider television industry would not like and much prefers a weakened BBC that has become a publisher rather than a programme maker.
'Twas fun listening to two (Humphrys and Paxman) of the three rudest men in broadcasting, trying to score points over each other. I didn't listen to what they were saying, just to the way they said it!

PS The missing 'third rude man' - Naughtie.


Book Reviewer
£3.5 billion in guaranteed income. That is a budget that HAS to be spent, or the licence fee must come down. So, how to go about it? Spank the money on extra, unnecessary channels that are shut down for most of the time, thousands of 'spare' radio stations, large salaries for thousands of hangers on, dross programming by the mindless, for the brainless . . . . oh, and a very small number of 'informative' programs that actually help people.

The serious programs that 'inform' and 'entertain', rather than being the mainstay of the BBC (which has well and truly lost its way), is the bread and butter for Sky Discovery, Sky News, National Geographic and such.

Time to throw them out into the wilderness, or reduce the fee with huge cutbacks.
Agreed. That's an awful lot of money, with a declining output in terms of both quality, integrity and presentation, to show for it. There's no justification for the Licence Fee any longer, and hasn't been for a long time. Let them sink or swim.

Paxman is about the only BBC-head left who has any credibility, and his stance must jar with those in the Big Leather Chairs. But he's right, and forthright with it, so his days are probably numbered.

I watched the caving programme featuring Kate Humble last night. It must have taken a great logistical exercise to make it, over an extended period and at (our) great expense. Technically marvellous, no doubt, but I was struck by the BBC's irresistable urge to trivialise at every opportunity. It could have been a really interesting, unusual and informative programme, but seemed to be more about the good Ms Humble's personal struggle with confined spaces, heights (depths?), and filth. Emotional drivel. Infact at one point she made a reference to the 'X-Cave Factor' or something similar, she recognised the preponderence of hand wringing luvviness for herself.

John Noakes would have done it in a weekend with a Woolie's torch, a bottle of Tizer, and a couple of Spam sandwiches, and been a lot more 'entertaining and informative' while he was about it.

Edited to add - And Shep, ofcourse.

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