Crunch time for Beeb chief

PM remains sympathetic to BBC despite waiving interest

Some 11,000 BBC workers last week walked out in protest over director-general Mark Thompson‘s planned job cuts.

He’s aiming to trim the staff by a whopping 25%.

The militancy comes as the pubcaster negotiates with Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s government over its future financing and its charter.

Despite the growth of digital services, which means auds are spending less time watching BBC channels, and the row over Iraq coverage that led to the Hutton report, Blair remains sympathetic to a publicly funded BBC.

Blighty’s other big broadcasters, ITV and Channel 4, have slimmed down dramatically in recent years. As C4’s CEO, the same Thompson reduced the payroll dramatically.

Meanwhile, the BBC under its previous topper, Greg Dyke, added staff.

An astute political operator, Thompson needs to put his mark on the BBC — and to keep politicos more or less on his side. But he also needs to deal effectively with the protesters.

“He wants to get rid of 25% of the staff, but he’s managed to make 80% of people who work at the BBC deeply insecure, which is terrible for morale,” says a former top BBC exec.

Ultimately, though, with staff belonging to different unions — BBC journos and technicians have different agendas and the job cuts will affect each group differently — Thompson’s smartest strategy looks likely to be “divide and conquer.”