Media Analysis: Auntie on back foot over finances

How is the BBC perceived after job cuts but big executive pay rises, asks Robyn Lewis

George Orwell's tortuous Room 101, according to legend, was based on a real room at the BBC. Indeed, Auntie's bosses could well have thought themselves to be in the room this year.

The Government's BBC White Paper in March incensed media rivals by failing to curb the corporation's commercial reach, which was increasingly squeezing them out of the market, they claimed.

Then came an ill-timed BBC announcement that it would be seeking a 2.3 per cent increase to the licence fee, which rivals said would be anti-competitive.

In April things got worse when details of celebrity salaries were leaked. The media seized on the huge payments pocketed by stars such as Jonathan Ross, though news that Matt Lucas and David Walliams had signed a £6m deal was less controversial.

Little respite

The next two months were no better for the organisation. First, rumours of job cuts reached newsdesks, with the speculation that up to a quarter of the BBC's reporters were to be made redundant – all against a backdrop of widespread criticism over its reporting in the Middle East and Iraq.

On a more positive note, however, reports of plans to expand into digital media with the development of BBC.com also made the papers in June.

July's release of the BBC's annual report brought little respite. News of huge salary increases for its top brass did not sit well amid pension and job cutbacks and falling audience figures.

But there was positive feedback over current affairs show Panorama's move to an 8.30pm primetime slot.

PRWeek asked two experts on the BBC about the corporation's image and where it needs to do better.

Analysis 1: the former BBC employee view

Alan Schofield, former BBC producer for Breakfast With Frost; now director of the Collective at the Bell Pottinger Group: "When push comes to shove, it's the BBC that most people turn to in a crisis. It's still one of the most trusted brands in the world. But if its reputation is built on the people who work there, then those at the top should have some cause for concern.

"When job cuts were announced, it was some six months before staff were told what this actually meant for them. If staff are the organisation's ambassadors, then the message they were giving to friends, rivals and the industry was one of fear and anger. And there is still confusion. Perhaps when the licence fee is finally agreed, it will be an opportunity for more openness.

"When NASA was sending a man to the moon, even the cleaner knew what the objective was. For Mark Thompson's 'permanent revolution' to pay off at the BBC, he has to make sure all staff know what is expected of them. Most of my former colleagues are enthusiastic to embrace change. But it's in their nature to ask 'okay, so what's the masterplan?'"

Analysis 2: the national newspaper view

Ian Burrell, media editor at The Independent: ‘For an organisation bracing itself for more job cuts, possible strikes and a battle to engage with a scornful younger generation, the BBC was feeling pretty good at the end of last month.

"This was down to the efforts of corporation journalists, who took further steps to put behind them the impression that BBC news was neutered by the Hutton inquiry.

"Mark Daly, of BBC current affairs, single-handedly influenced domestic news with revelations of corruption in the Stephen Lawrence investigation. And presenters Ben Brown and Jeremy Bowen have led the way in making sense of the conflict in Lebanon.

"The BBC's spinners avoided criticism over cutting Panorama to 30-minute slots, insisting it was a return to primetime for the show. This in spite of public carping from Channel 4, which enjoys the highest reputation rating of all broadcasters.

"It also gave the last rites to Top of the Pops, without the public backlash faced over the proposed demise of One Man and his Dog. The BBC's reputation is hardly an ascendant star. But then it's not a plummeting asteroid either, as ITV's is."

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