The BBC is said to be planning to downgrade their local radio stations.
The proposal – to use the national station 5 live to replace most original programmes on local radio, retaining only the breakfast and drivetime output – is one of a number of options being considered as part of the BBC’s ‘Delivering Quality First’ savings review.
But listeners, employees and the broadcasting unions are already predicting this would mean the ultimate closure of many stations and the destruction of the local service as a whole.
As with other recent cost-cutting proposals at the BBC, such as the move to axe the digital station 6Music, this might just be a kite-flying exercise to gauge public reaction. To move any further the BBC would need a full public consultation and the approval of the BBC Trust.
These are nevertheless worrying times for local radio staff. The service has fought off extinction before. A new Conservative government in 1970 wanted to close the BBC stations and hand local radio to commercial operators; Lord Annan’s Committee proposed merging Independent Local Radio and BBC Local Radio under a separate authority, and the BBC faced difficult decisions about cutting back, again during a financial crisis in the late 70s.
Despite these challenges, BBC Local Radio, which now numbers around 40 stations in England, plus those in the Nations, amounts to a considerable success story over its 43-year history.
The network has championed local communities and neighbourhood needs, given airtime to minority groups and good causes and provided comprehensive coverage of news stories in each area. It’s been a platform for debate and discussion and attracts most attention when the weather turns bad, providing valuable information on travel conditions and school closures. Audiences are healthy, though there has been some contraction in listening of late, but hardly a terminal decline.
Why then is the BBC taking a serious look at its future?
Part of the problem is the lack of a clear direction of what local radio is intended to be. Once upon a time there were firm roots in the community aspirations of local radio, with significant amounts of airtime available for interested amateurs and dedicated enthusiasts to get involved and make radio.
These slots have largely disappeared, apart from some specialist music and ethnic minority shows. One Managing Editor of a local station told me that they didn’t care about ratings in the evenings any longer: what mattered was the daytime audience.
The claim to be a community champion has been stolen from under their nose by the new community radio sector, licenced by OFCOM to serve small geographic areas and definable interest groups.
BBC Local Radio has gradually homogenised in recent years, turning over its output to the ubiquitous phone-in, dubbed by one former BBC executive as ‘5 live lite’.
The move away from a truely local focus went to another level last year, with the syndication of programmes between stations as with the south east of England sharing one drivetime show across Surrey, Sussex and Kent; a step back to the old regional concept which petered out in the early 1970s.
The other operator in this field, commercial radio, has already ceased being local, with the re-branding of many stations as part of the Heart, Smooth and Capital networks.
Each time it has faced the threat of closure in the past, BBC Local Radio has fought back and survived, gathering a powerful and vocal alliance of supporters from amongst politicians, community groups and listeners.
A most useful ally has been the Local Radio Advisory Councils, a board of volunteers recruited to monitor output and advise on local issues. But the councils were abolished in 2007, replaced by larger Regional Audience Councils: perhaps the loss of such an appreciative lobby will be felt in the months to come.
One thing is for certain: once you start dismantling this kind of local radio network, it is unlikely it’ll ever be built again in this form. Perhaps the BBC should consider opening up their local radio stations for partnership arrangements with universities and other public bodies, or merge them with community stations?
Matthew is the Principal Lecturer in Radio at the University of Westminster. A Sony Award winner he is currently writing PhD on the history of local radio.
UK experts from politics, PR and Journalism gathered at the University of Westminster to examine whether British politics has been undermined by spin and PR.
The debate recorded and down loadable as a podcast, is part of a hugely anticipated event every year lasting around an hour which brings together some of the UK’s most respected media, PR and political figures for stimulating debates.
If you’re a journalism, politics or PR professional or student, or take an active interest in the aforementioned, the University of Westminster’s PR debate provides professional and rigorous debate to understanding contemporary politics and media.
This year’s experts were: Laura Sandys, a Conservative MP and former political consultant to PM John Major; and Kevin Maguire the Associate and Political Editor of Daily Mirror who vigorously claimed it had. Maguire intoned, today we don’t have a Prime Minister today but a Prime Spinner.
Lance Price, a Former Labour ‘spin doctor’, now author and commentator; and Francis Ingham, Chief Executive, Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) argued differently.
Lance claimed without spin the Labour party stood little chance against a well-oiled conservative machinery under Margaret Thatcher whom mastered political communications.
He added whilst spin is nothing new, politicians require professional help to deliver their message and that the public are much more discerning, capable of seeing through spin that constitutes rhetoric and that which explains a government’s stalled message.
The perennial subject of spin and PR in politics has led to some choice aphorisms in British Politics. Fomer Labour cabinet minister Peter Mandelson said: “Crude clumsy handling of the media by overly controlling and politicised press officers causes more problems than no handling at all, because it undermines trust”.
Whilst that doyen of British journalism, the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman took the position interviewing politicians: “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?
The debate was chaired by Trevor Morris, Visiting Professor of Public Relations, University of Westminster, and co-author of ‘PR- A Persuasive Industry?’
Listen to the debate recorded as a podcast here.
This debate is hosted by the University of Westminster and organised by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, part of the School of Media, Arts and Design. A leader in its field, the department hosts the Communication and Media Research Institute – CAMRI – the UK’s top-rated media research unit, according to the Research Assessment Exercise 2008.
Situated in one of the world’s great cities, the school has close connections with leading businesses and media and a strong reputation for professional and practice-based education, matched by a distinguished record in academic teaching and scholarly research.
Following the debate the drinks reception was kindly sponsored by Bell Pottinger Public Affairs
The University of Westminster held it’s second annual journalism conference on June 8/9 entitled “Journalism’s Next Top Model”. The event also hosted the Charles Wheeler Award for Broadcasting, given by the British Journalism Review, this year awarded to BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. The event also featured a speech by London Mayor Boris Johnson.
The conference was focussed around the current state of journalism and particularly the funding. A keynote speech by Prof Robert Picard reviewed he current state of the newspaper industry. Other speakers looked at how the internet has affected sales and the who would pay for news in the future. A good commentary on the conference was written by journalism.co.uk
Jeremy Bowen’s speech where he criticised the BBC Trust was reported in The Guardian
Video of the conference speakers has been posted on YouTube as jntmwmin by students from the University, including the speech by Boris Johnson (in two parts one and two ). Additional material is available here.
As journalism flounders, public relations continues to thrive. But that’s good news for both sides of the divide, argues Trish Evans, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations.
It is time to admit that the two disciplines of journalism and PR are two sides of the same coin and that there is now complete freedom of movement between them. What’s more, with PR generally being better remunerated and flourishing, whereas journalism – print and broadcast – seems to be in a constant state of crisis, has public relations emerged from being seen by journalism as a poor and distant relation to taking on the role of a rich and powerful cousin?
To read more of Trish’s article go to The British Journalism Review
In 1964, BBC Radio mounted one of its biggest and most expensive series ever, “The Negro in America.”
For three months it broadcast to a national audience 17 programs of documentary, music, poetry, and debate designed to give a “coherent view of the integration struggle” to the British people. The leading poet Langston Hughes was invited to be the series’ co-editor, working alongside the long-serving BBC producer Geoffrey Bridson. This talk by Dr. David Hendy explores the origin of the series in the two men’s relationship as well as the critical and popular reaction to the series in Britain. What, it asks, did Hughes – or indeed the BBC – seek to get out of this historic, trans-Atlantic co-production?
David Hendy a Visiting Fellow at Beinecke Library. He has been teaching media history at the University of Westminster in London for the past 16 years. He studied history at the universities of St Andrews and Oxford, before joining the BBC as a trainee reporter in 1987. During his time at the BBC he produced news programs and documentaries for the Corporation’s main radio channel, Radio 4, covering the collapse of the Soviet Union and a range of European and British political events.
Full details of the lecture at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, click here.