NUJ journalists fear loss of editorial integrity under plans to move speech-based programmes to the corporation’s commercial arm

  • 09 Sep 2022

They are fighting plans being discussed to move most speech- based programmes, including podcasts, to BBC Studios, the commercial arm of the corporation.

A number of NUJ chapels, together with Bectu colleagues who represent technical staff, have made strong protests to an internal review of the plan saying it would undermine their editorial integrity as public service broadcasters (PSB).

One paper submitted to the review by NUJ BBC radio & future media chapel, NUJ BBC production north chapel and Bectu audio & music production branch  said: “If speech audio production were situated in BBC Studios, every decision made would be subject to commercial objectives as well as public service objectives. This would be a very significant change from the current situation for production within the public service, and it would inevitably have an impact – our members believe a negative impact – on editorial decisions, posing serious risks for editorial integrity, independence and impartiality.”

Paul Siegert, the NUJ’s national broadcasting organiser said:

“The NUJ understands that in the current financial climate the BBC needs to maximise its earning potential from commercial activities. But we have major concerns over these particular plans. NUJ members have chosen to work in public service broadcasting with the BBC because they value impartiality and accuracy so highly. These plans would damage that beyond repair. There is a danger that topics and subjects for documentaries  and investigations would be chosen on the grounds of whether they could go on and be sold and make money. This goes against the heart of what the BBC is all about.”

While news programmes such as Today, World at One and PM would remain as part of the PSB BBC, journalistic programmes such as Woman's Hour, You and Yours, Outlook, Front Row and Jeremy Vine to cutting edge drama and factual programmes including A History of the World in 100, Any Questions?, Bookclub, CrowdScience, The Conversation, The Cultural Frontline, Digital Planet, Inside Health, In Touch, The Life Scientific, The Media Show, Saturday Live, Start the Week and The Untold would move to BBC Studios.

The paper describes them as “a feast of original, surprising, educational, informative, entertaining, independent, impartial, factually accurate and trusted content rich in human interest and expert storytelling, made to the highest editorial, production, sound design and public service values, and reaching millions of listeners in the UK”.

A similar paper written by the NUJ chapels BBC long form audio London and Salford, said:

“We have all chosen to work in public service broadcasting at the BBC because we value impartiality and accuracy so highly. It is therefore very important to members that we remain inside News and inside the public service broadcasting arm of the BBC. 

“While we understand that content by BBC Studios will often also fulfil PSB values, we do not want to work full-time to briefs that are in part commercially driven and subject to influence from business, celebrities, or vested interests. We see ourselves primarily as journalists, then as audio producers. We therefore suggest that Long Form Audio remains in News, does not relocate to BBC Studios and does not undergo any more restructuring.”

The journalists are responsible for many award-winning podcast such I’m Not a Monster, The Coming Storm, Tunnel 29, Gangster, The Nazi Next Door, Dear Daughter and The Lazarus Heist. The podcasts generate weekly news stories across all sections of the BBC and the staff see themselves as an integral part of the BBC News operation.

They said that “a lack of proper coordination has already led to changes to content that potentially undermine its journalistic integrity”, including Fatwa being renamed The Book Burners on Audible without any consultation with the producer and The Climate Question being preceded by an advert for a fossil fuel company in Australia, which led to criticism and  negative reviews from listeners.

An email poll of NUJ members in BBC Audio found that more than 96 per cent support keeping speech audio production within the BBC public service. An identically worded poll of Bectu members in BBC Audio found that 91 per cent supported keeping speech audio production within the BBC public service. 

The journalists have no objection to their programmes being sold by the BBC, but they believe the two operations – making the programmes and selling the programmes – should be kept distinct. To facilitate this, one of the papers proposes creating a new umbrella framework within the BBC public service to enable the various speech audio production teams to work together more closely, especially as regards pitching for commissions, while maintaining their distinctive identities and the resulting diversity of the BBC speech audio offer.

The result of the internal BBC review is due on September 30. Insiders fear that BBC music programmes could follow suit and be transferred to the commercial arm.

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