THE BBC has shown a “failure to understand what's really important” with a planned restructure of its news output, media experts have said.

Specific concerns were raised about cuts to the flagship Newsnight programme, which will instead become a “30-minute interview, debate and discussion show”, and the real-world impact of BBC Verify, the broadcaster’s relatively new fact-checking service.

It comes after the corporation announced that Newsnight’s team and funding would be cut in half, with a centralised “Investigations Unit” created in its wake, as well as BBC Verify being expanded and a new “royal editor” hired.

The BBC said the restructuring has been necessitated by a “tough financial climate” in which it was having to make some £500 million in savings.

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But experts have raised concerns that trust in the BBC’s news output could be eroded by a pivot towards online fact-checking and away from long-form journalistic content.

“With BBC Verify, they do important fact-checking obviously, but … when it comes to the disinformation problem, as a solution it is flawed,” propaganda expert Dr Emma Briant told the Sunday National. “They're just not trusted by people who are likely to be the ones who need them most.

“What has an impact is good, long-form journalism that properly explains things to people and that people trust. To gut that … it's just so short-sighted. That is a failure to understand what's really important here.”

The Monash University associate professor of journalism raised concerns that the BBC restructure is “going to leave a real vacuum when it comes to this deep engagement that we so badly need”.

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Dr Russell Jackson, a senior communications lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said the BBC was being pressured to “prioritise audience reach over the traditional preference for editorial importance and significance”.

He further said that changing Newsnight into a “10-a-penny” debate show was a “step in completely the wrong direction”.

“There are some quite profound limitations to [the debate format],” he said.

“[With] the BBC, one of its main purposes is ‘to provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them’.

“When you've got a situation where there's this tiny pool of essentially elite voices, often opaquely funded or taken from a tiny pool of billionaire-owned newspapers, we just get a really narrow selection of views and opinions.

“It goes to that kind of ‘he said, she said’ style of reporting which passes for balance.”

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Jackson said that making Newsnight into a discussion show would allow “the powerful to set the news agenda”, rather than truth-finding investigations cutting through the rhetoric.

He went on: “People still like BBC News, it's still the most trusted news source – although that's been dropping over the years quite significantly – but it's still head and shoulders above the rest.

“To attack one of its well-renowned, investigative, flagship news programs like this just seems like a crazy direction to go in. It will erode trust even further.

“Discussion shows are 10 a penny, so why would people stick with Newsnight?”

Both of the experts said that the commercial pressures forcing the BBC’s hand were not unique to the broadcaster, but leading to problems for all media.

“News, which is absolutely essential for a functioning democracy, is really on the back foot at the moment,” Jackson said.

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Briant said the BBC’s announcement represented both a “tragedy” and an “understandable restructuring” in the global context of stretched newsrooms which are being forced to cut expert correspondent roles.

“You really need these experts,” the associate professor said. “You need defence experts, you need experts on climate. These are complex issues that we absolutely need people who have the network, the contacts, the right information to fact-check things and really just know the landscape in a deep way.

“The trouble is that when you reduce it to the bare bones … that leaves you with a skeleton crew who are not really able to do high-quality journalism in the same way. This is something that's been experienced not just at the BBC, but at other newsrooms all around the world.

“I thought that the BBC would survive this, honestly, but in this current political climate, with all the attacks on it, I don't know.”

The BBC has said it will be adding some specialist roles amid the restructuring, including a royal editor and “correspondent and reporter positions covering artificial intelligence, financial and political investigations, employment, and housing”.

However, it added: “There will also be a number of post closures within the teams. The changes to reporting positions have been designed to focus on areas which are of particular interest to today’s audiences.”

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Deborah Turness (above), the BBC’s chief of news, said: “Audiences have told us how much they value Newsnight as an iconic BBC debate and discussion programme, and we’ve listened to what they’ve said – we’ve made the decision to keep the programme on air five days a week, despite the financial challenges we face.

“Newsnight has also been a source of great investigative reporting and films but we know that people are consuming the news in different ways, and it can no longer make sense to keep a bespoke reporting team for a single television programme. We will offer more to audiences by investing to ensure the best investigative journalism and reporting is produced – and consumed – across the whole of BBC News.”