The voice of the region must be heard

On today of all days, just about the most unlikely campaign imaginable is the Guardian’s “ Save the BBC” blog. Defending the £3.4 billion a year corporation may seem absurd but a closer look shows what the Guardian is arguing for is the need to protect the BBC in tough times like today, when it’s tempting to milk it as a cash cow. The argument goes that the BBC acts as the guarantor of a great part of British journalism and programme making. Well yes, but look at the contrast between the BBC and UTV. In today’s news, the expected programme of UTV cuts are under way: “Staff at UTV are being offered voluntary severance as the company faces “significant” job cuts”. Over at the BBC, the Nations and Regions directorate is being scrapped as a cost cutting exercise: “The controllers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – Ken MacQuarrie, Menna Richards and Peter Johnston respectively – .. will be promoted to directors in their own right.. The BBC said the changes, due to be implemented by April, were part of its “continuing drive … to help ensure it fully represents the nations, regions and communities across the UK”.

The rhythm of life at the BBC down the decades continually moves from centralisation to devolution and back again. Despite the revival of the high sounding “Director “ title for the local heads, the changes mean savings and more central control. The move also means the retirement as director of nations and regions of Pat Loughrey, a former BBC NI head and a notable champion of NI and all-Ireland programme making.

Overall, there’s a real threat to local journalism and programme making after years of comparative plenty. While the locals are never satisfied, the representation of NI and Ireland as a whole on UK national and international airwaves has never been greater and has diversified successfully from the treadmill of Troubles coverage. Some off this is now in doubt – how much, remains to be seen but the future scene is looking more and more like a BBC near-monopoly. This is unhealthy in itself and bad for the Corporation, as it attracts envy. BBC savings don’t begin to compare with the plight of commercial broadcasting and local newspapers. The Corporation may have seen off pressure from the media regulator Ofcom to hand over its commercial arm to cash-strapped Channel 4 but is still being attacked for invading space that regional and local papers could occupy – a sore point with the Belfast Telegraph among many others. The Guardian’s verdict:

“ The CEO of Trinity Mirror Sly Bailey, was the latest to hit out last week. She said the BBC’s plans for local broadband sites were “a threat to the development and diversity of the local media sector online and potentially to its print-based cousins”. A lot of this rhetoric can sound like crocodile tears – like commercial radio before them, regional newspapers are as much victims of their owners’ incompetence and the structural challenges of the digital age. The BBC makes a convenient scapegoat to mask their own strategic failings.”

Certainly the regional press have been slow to catch up with the internet. Cash poverty is not the whole answer, some are ruthlessly profitable at the expense of staffing and quality. There’s room here for co-operation between the BBC and the papers in the very local broadband sites. Would it not benefit local media all round to plan to new websites with the local press and co-host them?

Flexibility and co-operation will be needed if the regional voice is to continue to be heard as loudly and distinctively as it has been up to now.

  • alfie garnett

    The BBC World Service is awful. They hype the most woeful programmes for weeks on end. Their sports section lacks any focus.

  • barnshee

    “In today’s news, the expected programme of UTV cuts are under way: “Staff at UTV are being offered voluntary severance as the company faces “significant” job cuts”. ”

    The real world. The licence fee system protects the BBC from reality. Kill the Fee let the BBc sink or swim in direct competition with the real world.

  • Brian Walker

    alfie (great name!) I think you mean BBC World (tv)BBC World Service is radio. It does pretty well internationally. Neither us financed by the licence fee, World being commercial and the World Service funded by Foreign Office grant-in-aid.
    Barnshee, very possibly but that’s not where the debate lies at the moment.

  • Big Maggie

    Uh, is it me or is there no difference at all between the BBC and the ‘commercial’ channels? Here are the cultural delights we can look forward to this evening from 7pm until Newsnight. And this is BBC 2, y’know, the more highbrow one…
    7:00 pm
    Who Do You Think You Are?
    8/8. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen: Laurence discovers how far back his seafaring roots go, and if there’s any truth behind a family legend that they descend from wealthy squires. [AD,S]
    8:00 pm
    The Restaurant
    Raymond Blanc adds to the pressure – he tells the couples to start a takeaway service so they can reach out to their local community by offering their restaurant food to go. [S]
    9:00 pm
    2/25. The Butterfly Effect: Angela confronts her much-changed son, Peter, Sylar declares war on the Company, and Claire discovers something new and unexpected about her abilities. Adult themes. [AD,S]
    9:45 pm
    Heroes Unmasked
    New Heroes on the Block: With Heroes being blessed, and cursed, with the arrival of new villains this series, Heroes Unmasked goes straight into the heart of Level 5. [AD,S]
    10:00 pm
    Mock the Week… Again
    Dara O’Briain presents the topical comedy show with Frankie Boyle, Hugh Dennis, Andy Parsons and Russell Howard. Michael McIntyre and Jan Ravens join the fun. Some strong language.

    Some strong language eh? Magser has some of her own for the people who destroyed what was once a great institution.

  • Yvette Doll

    I don’t respect any broadcaster that fakes news reports.