Editorial: The ​​BBC should not be allowed to take any advertisements at all

News Letter editorial on Monday March 24 2024:
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​​The BBC is introducing advertising on its broadcasts for the first time.​

The adverts will only be applied to podcasts, so it might sound harmless. It might even seem to be a display of fiscal responsibility: the corporation doing what Stormont will not do, and raising extra funds. But it is not a harmless plan. The BBC, the national broadcaster, is arguably the most impressive such outfit in radio and TV anywhere. From presenters such as David Attenborough to David Dimbleby, comedies from Dad’s Army to the Two Ronnies, sports shows from Grandstand to Match of the Day, and investigative series including Panorama, the BBC has made memorable programmes.

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Latterly it has often lost its way. The Gaza coverage suggests that it cannot shake off what some of its own leading figures have previously described as institutional bias. In Northern Ireland, where once it carefully tried to walk a neutral path, increasingly it shows troubling judgement in its coverage of issues such as legacy, strikes and the constitutional debate.

Yet it has an expanding news website, and which diverts audiences away from private regional news organisations that have a fraction of its money. BBC NI should be focused on this province, a part of the UK, so why for example does its website typically have two Republic of Ireland news stories out of the top eight on its home page, almost as of right? If anyone queries such news judgements, which have great impact on how news is filtered to a swathe of the population here, they face accusations of pettiness.

It is a grave breach of the BBC charter to introduce advertising, even if for now only at the edges of its broadcasts. The BBC could instead seek efficiencies, given its profligacy, such as high staffing proportionate to output and trimming its generous, costly pension provision for employees.