Is Auntie scared of the C-word?
No, not that word, but “cut”.
Everywhere you look, the cuts are coming – cuts to budgets, cuts to staffing levels, cuts to spending. 2011 could well become remembered as the Year of the Cuts, particularly in the public sector. But will we end up thinking of it as the Year of the Savings, due to the BBC?
BBC journalists have reportedly been told to use "savings" rather than "cuts" after being branded the British Broadcasting Cuts Corporation by David Cameron. A BBC News oopsy even managed to use both in the same headline the other day, possibly indicating an anxiety over which term was right.
It's led to predictable grumbling from Labour that the friendlier, less scary word is replacing the harsher term; but the BBC responded that the right words were being used in context.
So, are the right words being used? Is Auntie being bullied into downplaying the cuts? When is a cut a cut, and when is a cut a saving? Is it all a big plot from the establishment-loving Beeb to bow down to its masters in government? Or is something a little less conspiratorial going on here?
It's not a straightforward replacement of "cuts" with "savings". Have a scour of the BBC website, for example, and you will see that the word "cuts" has not been excised completely; and it's the same story on the broadcast platforms, where the word has been sprinkled around without fear of an iron boot.
Are the two terms interchangeable, then? Not entirely. You can cut a budget, and in doing so you make savings; or you can cut back on staff, through which you make savings, but they're not exactly the same thing.
You can make efficiency savings without making cuts; and you can also make cuts without necessarily saving money in the short term – redundancies do cost money, which won't be saved until further along the line, for example. Cuts and savings aren't always the same thing, though you can argue about which term sounds friendlier than the other; it depends, perhaps, on whether you see public spending as a problem that needs to be solved or a vital duty of the state.
Perhaps it's the messianic zeal with which opponents of the government (UK Uncut, or Stop the Cuts, for example) have seized upon the word "cut" that makes the BBC a little uneasy when using it. In Auntie's constant quest to be seen as impartial and objective, too much use of the C-word might lead to familiar accusations of a leftist agenda being at work.
As ever, the Beeb bends over backwards to be seen as being as transparent and fair as possible – which isn't necessarily a bad thing, I think. I don't think it's playing down the scale of the government's plans for the public sector, or attempting to toe any kind of line over the language that's used, despite Cameron's rather snotty little attack.
Just as with the Beeb's anxiety over the word "reform" and possible positive connotations with reference to the forthcoming AV referendum, I think this is simply evidence of the corporation attempting to be as fair and balanced as possible, and keeping its guard up against possible accusations of anti-coalition (or anti-Tory) bias.
The word "cuts" will continue to be used, just as government spokespeople will be allowed to repeat the "We inherited this mess from Labour" time after time; I don't think anyone's trying to hide the truth of what's going on.
To many, it might seem like evidence of Auntie being told what to do by the government, but I'm a little more optimistic.