He has yet to take up his new position, but George Entwistle, the soon-to-be Director General of the BBC, already faces calls from the National Union of Journalists to rethink the corporation’s six year licence fee freeze. In 2012, out-going DG Mark Thompson agreed that the licence fee would remain fixed at £145.50 until 2017, which translates to 16% real terms cut. Terms of the agreement saw the BBC agree to fund the World Service and BBC Monitoring, which analyses media coverage from around the world.
The NUJ publicly criticised Thompson’s handling of the licence fee agreement, writing in an email to its members: “It is our view that the BBC should have fought these plans, and rallied its supporters, rather than accept such a devastating deal which could lead to thousands of job losses and the wholesale closure of services." In the months following the deal, the journalism board responsible for the management of BBC Journalism was dissolved and 650 World Service jobs were axed. In addition, BBC Online suffered a budget decrease of 25%, bringing about the loss of 360 jobs and a reduction in the number of news blogs on the site.
Anything that could detract from the BBC’s online news output is cause for concern, when we consider that the BBC is the most visited original news site in Europe. According to data released by comScore, every month BBC Online, including its international website BBC.com, is visited by more than 26 million unique users in Europe alone.
The success of the BBC’s online news product serves as a prime example of traditional news media successfully breaking into the online news market. The funding that the BBC receives from the British public does of course liberate the company from the financial difficulties assailing many of its commercial competitors, but public money also allows the corporation the freedom to produce objective news content that is read and relied upon by consumers around the world.
Entwistle began his career at the BBC in the newsrooms, working for Panorama and later as Newsnight editor. Given his professional background there can be little doubt that he understands the importance of the corporation’s news output. Nonetheless, the fact that in some quarters he is being hailed as the “first austerity Director General” makes it more than possible that the NUJ will be disappointed in its quest to bring about a renegotiation of BBC cuts. Though the new Director General has promised to use the time before formally assuming his new role to listen to the concerns of his colleagues, it seems likely that he will pursue the “Delivering Quality First” pledge that saw Mark Thompson aim to implement £700m of cost-cutting measures throughout the BBC.