BBC Three 'safe' in budget cuts
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Edinburgh TV Festival
Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood has been BBC Three's biggest hit
The BBC's head of TV has rejected calls to close BBC Three in order to solve the corporation's financial problems.
All areas of the BBC are facing budget cuts after the broadcaster did not get the licence fee increase it wanted.
Conservative MP John Whittingdale and Panorama's John Sweeney suggested the digital channel should be shut to safeguard quality in other areas.
But the BBC's Jana Bennett said working more efficiently across the board was better than closing an entire channel.
BBC Three, which has achieved success by showing episodes of Torchwood and Heroes before their terrestrial airings, has a budget of £93.4m in 2007/8.
Mrs Bennett, who is director of BBC Vision, told the Edinburgh TV Festival there were areas where the BBC "duplicated types of programme" across its channels.
She called for a reduction in the number of programmes made, but - in a reference to the BBC's different TV channels - "not a reduction in the rich offering we need to give audiences".
She said "doing less" was her preference, and that the strategic use of repeats was a way of filling some gaps.
BBC Three is a channel which I think probably could be closed without noticeably affecting the output of the corporation
John Whittingdale MP
"Repeats are not necessarily a bad thing," she said. "When people miss a programme, you're making up for that loss."
Many of BBC Three's highest audiences have been for repeats of EastEnders, Doctor Who and Little Britain, but it has produced few crossover hits of its own.
Mr Whittingdale, who chairs the House of Commons culture select committee, said savings could be made by cutting things that were "a long way removed from its public service remit or are unnecessary".
"There is no need necessarily for the BBC to have as many television channels as it does," he told the BBC News website.
"BBC Three is a channel which I think probably could be closed without noticeably affecting the output of the corporation."
Don't cut current affairs - the sharp end of the BBC's public service commitment
The corporation should invest more in areas where it serves its "principal public service remit", rather than cutting the budgets of those departments, he said.
And Mr Sweeney called on the BBC to "shoot a white elephant or two" instead of taking money away from current affairs.
"God knows, we've got a few," the Panorama reporter said. "It would be better, I believe, to close down BBC Three or BBC Four than cut current affairs again."
Mr Sweeney - appearing at a session on factual programming - described the BBC's current affairs department as "a pale shadow of what it was".
It had "empty desks and far too many people on short-term contracts", he said, which made it "very much harder for people to argue and challenge the bosses".
"Stop it - don't cut current affairs, the sharp end of the BBC's public service commitment," he implored.
When you say there's going to be 10% cut, it means you should have savings all round
BBC funding has been a major topic at the three-day festival.
On Friday, Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman described the licence fee as "an idea of the 1950s", warning that it would be hard for his programme to survive in its current form if further cuts were implemented.
But Mrs Bennett's stance was backed by TV presenter Clive Anderson, who appeared alongside her in a session about the state of the BBC.
Closing a channel was a "misconceived" way to save money, he argued.
"It's harder to make lots of small economies everywhere - it's easier to achieve a big cut by taking out a whole service," he said.
"But when you say there's going to be 10% cut, it means you should have savings all round."
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