When Sarah Sands departed the Evening Standard to become editor of the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme last year, the “Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev said: ‘The London Evening Standard has been a huge success under Sarah's editorship, and she has been a vital part of the team since this company acquired the Standard in 2009. Sarah will leave with our very best wishes for her new role.’”
No further questions, m'Lud
This was the most blatant horseshit. Under Ms Sands’ leadership, what remained of the Standard’s credibility had been sprayed up the wall during the 2016 London Mayoral election contest, when the paper had shamelessly shilled for Tory Zac Goldsmith, who fought a disgraceful Islamophobic campaign, even suggesting that Labour’s Sadiq Khan was in league with terrorists. But this did not bother the Beeb.
Now, the Corporation has reaped the reward of her stewardship: Today has lost around 10% of its audience over the past 12 months. As the Guardian has reported, “The Today programme reached an average of 7 million listeners a week between April and June, down from a record 7.8 million people in the same period last year. The BBC pointed out that this period included major news events such as the snap general election and the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire”. But there are major events right now.
Brexit. Attacks on the Labour leadership. Zimbabwe. Interest rates. Hot weather, with the prospect of more. Crime. Trump. But no, today’s Today prog has given a prime slot to an apologist for the far right. Small wonder “The decline in listeners came amid discussion over the direction it has taken under its editor, Sarah Sands, and whether it continues to set the political agenda”. Why this might be is not hard to fathom.
We need look no further than Ms Sands’ own comments, as Press Gazette has told: “The editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has said John Humphrys is ‘the person you want when you want to hold power to account’, describing her female presenters as ‘better on fashion’”. Mishal Husein was unavailable for comment.
Humphrys is becoming the subject of increasing amounts of adverse comment from Today’s audience. The programme’s make-up is also under fire, not least for persisting with the idea that reporting of the Vote Leave lawbreaking must be “balanced” by someone rubbishing the work done by the Observer and the Electoral Commission, or that a discussion on climate change must include a climate change denialist.
Listeners are not impressed, and the decline may only be getting going; for so many, the Today programme is their default radio setting of a morning. The BBC’s problem is that once those listeners snap out of the default habit, they are unlikely to return - not while Humphrys is acting like Daily Mail Man, and Today is edited by someone who led a viciously unpleasant attack on London’s current Mayor.
As for the infelicitous remarks about female presenters … one need say no more.