“If you miss Newsnight, you're out of it”
For the latest in City University London's speed-debates on the future of the BBC, (in the run-up to next year's charter renewal), the Centre for Law Justice and Journalism was delighted to welcome James Harding, Director of News and Current Affairs at the BBC.
In his speech, Harding acknowledged that 2014 had been a demanding year, both in terms of news (Ukraine, Ebola, The Scottish Referendum, IS, Boko Haram), but also in terms of shrinking budgets and resources.
Harding went on to emphasise what the BBC had managed to achieve, focusing on three main areas:
- Digital expansion. The BBC's mobile sites are now responsive in 30 languages, the Twitter feed @BBCBreaking has topped 10 million users, BBC News has become the most re-tweeted news source worldwide and the BBC news app was launched in BETA testing
- The revival of local journalism. In an attempt to re-balance what Harding described as "rich old, white people getting a better diet of news than poorer, younger non-white people," the BBC have formed partnerships with local press in an attempt to redress this balance
- BBC World Service. Harding made "no apologies" for the ambitions of the World Service to serve people around the world, citing that the extensive recent coverage of the attack in Peshawar was backed in "no small part by the Urdu Service" and that "the Arabic service team in Damascus was the bedrock of the BBC News coverage."
Turning to domestic programming, Harding said of Newsnight: "It's got back its confidence, ambition, wit and real intelligence", making it "the most interesting news programme on British television." On the question of whether Panorama would be outsourced in Lord Hall's plans for outsourcing, Harding said emphatically "no".
However, commenting ahead of Harding's speech, former Director General of the BBC, John Birt said that the BBC "wasn't doing enough to address the awesomely difficult questions" and called on Harding to take on the battles necessary to rectify this. Birt did acknowledge however, that the BBC's news operation was "in really good shape; as good as it's ever been."
Professor of TV Journalism at City, Stewart Purvis commented: "What City's speed-debate format has again shown is that an informal debate between industry executives, opinion-formers, academics and students can probe and even resolve issues very effectively. It explains why our guests keep coming back for more."
For Harding's full speech, visit the BBC press office page.