Lord Patten defends the size of the BBC’s news operation

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has defended the scale of the news operation at the corporation, claiming that its popularity is due to its quality, reliability and accuracy.

Lord Patten

The Guardian reports that Lord Patten asked delegates gathered at the Royal Television Society’s conference in Cambridge if Britain would be better served if the BBC were not on the spot when Osama bin Laden was killed and had to depend on US coverage for information.

“I’m not sure that would be of benefit to the public,” he said.

Patten highlights other global events and said that the greatest strength of the BBC was its ability to cover such events as the murder of former Pakistani president Benazir Bhutto.

He made the comments after culture secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the BBC could be included in an industry-wide review to determine the limits that should be applied to prevent one single provider becoming too powerful

Patten told the RTS: "We produce a quarter of the minutes of TV and radio news and get three-quarters of the audience. That may be because people are exercising something that Edmund Burke was very keen on – namely choice.

"A lot of people with a Sky box use their Sky box to watch BBC news. They do that because they think the BBC is giving them fair, accurate and impartial information about what's happening in the world." He said he was "not nervous", adding: "I'm pretty relaxed about looking at the BBC's share of the news market."

"The BBC is so big ... partly because ... [its audience] think it's fairer and more accurate than most of the newspapers they read," Patten said. "I don't think people could argue that the BBC could be subject to the whim of people with a commercial agenda."

He added that only around one in 10 people relied exclusively on the BBC for their news.

Patten also conceded that the corporation may have to cut foreign bureau as it seeks to make savings as a result of a 16% cut in the licence fee. However, he said the BBC would still have far more journalists based around the world than any other UK news organisation.

The BBC will publish proposals and a public consultation on cost savings in October, as part of its "delivering quality first" drive.

Patten said entertainment programmes were likely to be harder hit than news coverage and that more staff would probably move to Salford. "If you can't run a damn good broadcaster on £3.5bn a year then God help you," he added.

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