Lack of trust, funding issues and jobs in jeopardy – the future of UK media?

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Two important Commons committee meetings have discussed the future of broadcasting and journalism, with worrying conclusions.

It comes as the Guardian publishes a report from Oxford University showing that the public’s trust in media has ‘fallen off a cliff’ in the past five years.

In case you missed it – given there’s a lot going on in the world right now – here is Tonic’s lowdown on key points of discussion…

The meetings:

  1. The Future of Broadcasting, with James Purnell, director of radio and education, Clare Summer, director of policy from the BBC, and Alex Mohan, CEO of Channel 4
  2. The Future of Journalism, with Fraser Nelson, editor at The Spectator and Jason Cowley, editor at New Statesman

The Future of Broadcasting


  • The BBC currently has a £125 million shortfall. This is additional to the £190 million it needs as part of its five-year savings plan.
  • Efficiency cuts will be made, including changes to operational methods and at least 400 proposed job cuts.
  • TV scheduling will be the most affected, with production of new programmes put on hold. Local radio stations have seen a boost in daily listeners.
  • The committee chair accused the BBC of becoming increasingly more opinionated, which was a premise rejected by Purnell, saying the BBC’s journalism tells all sides to the story and its foundation is impartiality.
  • Concerns over the government’s involvement in BBC decisions was also raised with Purnell saying the BBC would be honest and open about any complaints from the government on specific editorial pieces – raised in relation to Emily Maitlis’ controversial comments on Newsnight.
  • Despite the BBC remaining as the most trusted news outlet, Purnell said the findings of the Oxford University study are a result of polarising political landscapes, which is impacting trust. He also criticised that the sample size for an element of the report was 90.
  • Purnell said: Journalism is a harder job than 20-30 years ago, especially to remain impartial. Compared to America, public broadcasting in the UK is far better and the future of it is important. Our job is to question and challenge. It’s important to have journalism that investigates the story and we can do that because we’re a public service and public funded. We ask the important questions for the public.
  • Diversity was discussed at lenght, following the recent BLM protests. Purnell said ‘serious conversations’ were being had at the BBC regarding diversity within leadership.

Channel 4

  • Channel 4 has had its content budget cut by £150 million and 1 in 10 staff have been furloughed.
  • Scheduling will be most affected, with more repeats being broadcast – as with the BBC.
  • News and factual programmes are in higher demand and viewers want to hear from trusted brands. The public is more aware of misinformation and disinformation.
  • Local shows are in high demand because they reflect what is going on and what people are going through. Viewers want to relate to what they’re watching – things like Tiger King and Too Hot To Handle are great for occasional escapism, but shows like that will never be relatable.
  • 16-34 age group volume for ‘traditional’ news is up 75%.
  • Young people are questioning the news they’re seeing on social platforms and are using trusted news outlets instead.
  • Mohan said: The importance of public service content is clear during this crisis and that is something I think will stay with us as we come out of it.
  • When asked about diversity in broadcasting, Mahon said: We have a commercially funded responsibility to share the key messages of minorities and we’ve had a clear role during the BLM movement.
  • £1 million of airtime has been gifted to companies raising awareness of racial issues and 20% of the top 100 Channel 4 earners are BAME.
  • A focus for Channel 4 is to push 50% of its money out of London and into local regions. Channel 4 currently has under 200 staff outside of London.
  • Channel 4 is taking on a ‘platform agnostic strategy’ to target the younger audience of 16-34. Mahon described this as ‘finding where the younger audience is and adapting our content to fit with that, such as TikTok and Snapchat’.
  • Channel 4’s ‘FactCheck’ service has hit 3 million views. Mahon said it is improving the value of public service broadcasting.
  • Both the BBC and Channel 4 are commissioning social media reviews to identify if tweets posted by their editorial staff are appropriate
  • Mahon shared three takeaways from broadcasting during the pandemic:
  1. People want trust
  2. People want to be entertained in a way that reflects what they’re going through
  3. The sector has been damaged and it needs help to rebuild

The Future of Journalism

The Spectator

  • Readership is up 53% across print and digital and it will be returning the government furlough money it has received
  • The willingness to pay for journalism has risen. The pay-monthly subscription consumer habit, made the norm by Amazon and Netflix, has helped subscription-based editorial.
  • People are more likely to pay for news and analysis because they can trust it more than the free online materials.
  • People are coming to magazines as a step away from the hysterical tone of social media. They want diverse opinions and views about things that really matter, rather than the ‘Punch and Judy’ nonsense you can find on Twitter.
  • The digital world has allowed The Spectator to occupy space it hasn’t been able to before. The public is using magazines like The Spectator to get an alternative view from that of outlets like the BBC.
  • The future of journalism is creating content that people will pay for. If it’s not good enough for that, then try harder.

The New Statesman

  • The crisis has propelled pre-existing issues within the print sector. There has been a surge in the decline of print circulation, as well as a decline in regional media.
  • News and current affairs publications have done well over the last decade because of the scale of political historical events.
  • Paid-for circulation of The New Statesman has risen to above 30,000, which hasn’t happened since the 90s.
  • A lot of mainstream publications have a top-down programmatic political approach, which stifles genuine reporting and views.
  • Publications like The New Statesman and The Spectator don’t operate like that, so it’s more fun to read. It offers a polarised debate.
  • Social media, like Twitter, is riddled with deep and dark commentary and politics and it’s not nice to read.
  • Publications are held accountable for what is published, but Twitter isn’t being held accountable for anything, whilst steering revenue away from traditional publishers.

If this whets your appetite, content of the full meetings are available to view.

PR strategies will need to adapt to the changing landscape of the media. If you’re looking for an agency to help guide you, please get in touch with the Tonic team.

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