One of the BBC’s oldest and most internationally respected news programs, Deadline London, must be abandoned at the end of the summer. The move, confirmed to the show’s producer over the weekend, is the first in a series of billed “radical changes” planned by the broadcaster.
To the surprise of the programme’s production team and panel of high profile contributors, the show will end in September, as it marks its 25th year of continuous broadcast on the BBC’s News and World channels.
“It’s pretty clear that the BBC has decided to make substantial changes to the news channels,” said Nick Guthrie, who has edited the program since its inception and is still hoping for a reprieve.
“It’s an iconic brand that offers a unique perspective,” he added. “The show was recently described by [former Democratic presidential candidate] Hillary Clinton as an “oasis of sanity in a very troubled world”. And [former BBC Trust chairman] Chris Patten once called it “the crown jewel of the BBC”. I may be biased, but it would be a tragedy to cancel it now, when the public is crying out for clarity. Contributors were told it was doomed and aren’t happy either.
In response, the BBC promises that Deadline LondonThe particular mix of commentary and expertise, often drawn from outside the company’s staff, will be offered elsewhere in its television programs.
The program, with a global audience of 10-15 million, was originally hosted by Charles Wheeler, the revered late foreign correspondent, and aired for 50 minutes on Sunday mornings.
It now features a range of political and foreign affairs panelists with diverse perspectives, including Janet Daley, of the Sunday TelegraphBronwen Maddox of the Institute for Government, Polly Toynbee of the Guardianand David Aaronovitch of Time. Contributors from foreign news organizations regularly include names such as Thomas Kielinger of the German newspaper Die Weltand Vincent Magombe, of Africa Inform International.
The loss of Deadline Londonwhich is being produced for the BBC by Guthrie’s company, TV Talk, is a taste of a cuts program that is likely to affect all programming over the next two years.
The BBC’s annual plan, published three weeks ago, sets out an obligation to deliver a further £285million in annual savings before 2027. These will come on top of the latest round of broadcast service cuts, which led to the loss of 500 jobs at the BBC. in the news alone.
While the BBC’s plan warned of the next and necessary “reduction of content and services”, the decision to remove Deadline London is not seen internally as part of a drive to reduce costs. News executives described it as part of a “healthy modernization” of reporting.
The focus will instead, they say, be on providing analytics through new formats, including John Simpson’s new chatshow, Unturned worldand The context, a new program presented by Christian Fraser. Early positive responses to Simpson’s show have been encouraging, according to news bosses, although Guthrie said he suspects economies are really driving the changes. He stressed that when BBC staff interview BBC colleagues, they are not allowed to share their own opinions.
“Deadline London is the only news and current affairs discussion program on British television that provides insight into ‘how other people see us’,” he said. “The opinions of its customers are not limited. If you don’t have that window for an informed opinion, comments are left to extremists on other channels and streaming services.
Guthrie, who joined the BBC in 1968 and left 30 years later, said he made the show for £70,000 a year, delivering 182 hours of good quality broadcasting over a year. It is presented by News Channel presenters, which this year would include Shaun Ley, Martine Croxall and Geeta Guru-Murthy, and is therefore profitable, he argues.
A BBC spokesperson said that Deadline London has been a “key part of the BBC News Channel programme, having informed debate and provided context to world events for our viewers for many years”. “But the 24-hour channel, the spokesperson added, was constantly reviewing its output: “As the channel’s output has evolved, we now have a number of programs that provide a similar experience for our audiences.
Guthrie still hopes that when the BBC’s new news chief, Deborah Turness, arrives this summer, she will heed his plea: “I ask for a stay of execution and a chance to implement a new version.”