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Celebrities urge BBC not to cut regional current affairs programmes

17 June 2020

More than 100 personalities, from journalism, the arts, sciences and politics have written to BBC management in defence of regional currents affairs and politics programmes which are under threat.

The signatories include Stephen Fry, Sir Lenny Henry, Dominic West, Gloria Hunniford, Mark Knopfler, Miranda Sawyer, Alexei Sayle, Alison Steadman, Alastair Campbell, Peter Hitchens and Chris Mullin (full list below).

Staff on the 11 regional Inside Out programmes have been told to stop filming for September’s series while a review is carried out on its future. Meanwhile, there are fears that the regional Sunday politics programmes, which have been cut from 11 to one England-wide show because of Covid-19, will not return.

The letter addressed to Tony Hall, director general, and Tim Davie who will soon be taking over from Lord Hall, said:

“We are extremely concerned that the BBC regional current affairs programme Inside Out has had its forthcoming series cancelled and the future of all eleven regional departments in England is under review and could even be cut completely. All of those who have signed this letter have had the privilege of working or appearing on the respected, award-winning Inside Out or one of the many other documentaries the regional units make for broadcast both locally and on BBC networks. Never has in-depth investigative journalism, holding people to account and reflecting the regional diversity of England been more important.”

Jobs are expected to be lost on both series and the BBC will lose award-winning programmes which tackle issues at a local and regional level and play an important role in democracy at local council and constituency level, undermining the BBC’s claim to be the premier public service broadcaster across the UK.

The letter goes on to say: “If these cuts were to become permanent they risk damaging English democracy by the failure to provide an important platform for those voices in our communities who need and want to be heard. Even when faced with financial pressures we urge you not to reduce regional programmes and to defend a vital element of public service broadcasting not available anywhere else.”

Issues covered and stories broken by Inside Out include:
• Smart Motorways, an investigation into the number of UK deaths caused by removal of the hard shoulder.
• County Lines, the impact on the families of young people caught up in drug dealing via so-called County Lines.
• An investigation into working practices at Sports Direct.
• A series of investigations into a Bristol surgeon who left hundreds of women maimed and in pain across the country with reckless and unnecessary surgery.

Chris Packham worked for Inside Out South before going on to Inside the Animal Mind, World's Weirdest Event and the award-winning Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch. He said: “Top quality impartial investigative journalism should remain a central part of the BBC’s mission and Inside Out has delivered this consistently for many years. And equally importantly it has played a keystone role in the BBC’s essential commitment to regional programming. To lose this would be very disappointing.”
Journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, who has just started the BBC Four series Art of Persia, said: “I was proud to be part of an Inside Out investigation for BBC Leeds that dared to tackle difficult issues around race and exploitation in the Rotherham Grooming Scandal. Now more than ever we need honest, fearless journalism that is rooted in the long-term expertise and professionalism of BBC journalists who know their local communities. The BBC's reputation is built on journalists like these.”

Cracker writer Jimmy McGovern who is returning to BBC One with a drama about a Liverpool teenager murdered in a racist attack 15 years ago, said: “As Boris demonstrated recently when he eased the lockdown despite the virus still raging in Liverpool and Manchester, ‘whatever suits London suits the country’. It doesn't. That's why you need regional television.”

Naturalist and reporter Mike Dilger said: “Over the past 15 years I’ve reported on well over a hundred local wildlife stories and environmental issues for most of the eleven BBC regions producing Inside Out. Covering everything from what Brexit means for conservation across the East Midlands, to the environmental impacts of London Thames airport, foxes in Bristol and urban deer in Sheffield. Inside Out doesn’t just excite the licence fee payers about wildlife just beyond their doorstep, but also informs them about decisions which will directly impact their immediate environment, for better and for worse. These important and engaging stories, that so patently need the oxygen of publicity, will simply not be covered if this award-winning series is to be decommissioned and I implore the powers-that-be to keep serving these communities - local stories matter.”

Yorkshire poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster Ian McMillan said: “Inside Out does what the best regional media does; it reflects the culture of a place back to the people who live there. Without regional media we are a more threadbare society.”

Author Joanne Harris said: “It’s vitally important that we keep our regional services - and the fact they are at risk shows the BBC’s shamefully London-centric bias!”

List of signatories:
Michelle Ackerley Presenter
Samira Ahmed Journalist/Broadcaster/Author
Ayo Akinwolere Presenter / Broadcaster
Imran Azam Dentist
Nick Baker Naturalist & TV Presenter
Mike Barton Former Chief Constable, Durham Police
Nikki Bedi Presenter
Rob Bell Presenter
Bev Bevan Musician
Jasmine Birtles Journalist/Author/TV Presenter
James Blake CEO Youth Hostels Association
Fern Britton Presenter
Chris Broad Former England Cricketer
Prof John Burn Professor of Clinical Genetics
Alastair Campbell Journalist/Author/Broadcaster/Former Political Aide
Lee Child (James Dover Grant CBE) Author
Sarah Ali Choudhury Chef/ entrepreneur
Terry Christian TV Presenter/Author
Jo Cooke Hoarding Disorders Expert/Author
Daisy May Cooper This Country/Writer/Actress
Paul Cooper Actor
Joe Crowley Presenter
Kevin Cummins Photographer
Edwina Currie Broadcaster /Former Politician
Kit de Waal Author
Terry Deary Author
Les Dennis Actor/Comedian/TV Presenter
Mike Dilger Ecologist/Ornithologist/Broadcaster
Shaun Dooley Actor
Dr Oscar Duke Doctor/Broadcaster
Christopher Eccleston Actor
Kerrie Farrell TV Presenter/Actress
Sean Fletcher TV Presenter/Broadcaster
Shelagh Fogarty Broadcaster
George Friend Footballer, Capt Middlesbrough DC
Stephen Fry Actor/Writer/Presenter
Prof Ben Garrod Biologist/Broadcaster
Dr Clare Gerada Dr/Medical Director Practitioner Health
JoAnne Good Presenter/Actress
Phillipa Gregory Author
Sir John Hall Businessman /property developer
Joanne Harris Author
Tim Healy Actor
Wayne Hemingway Designer
Sir Lenny Henry Comedian/Actor/TV Presenter
Melanie Hill Actor
Peter Hitchens Journalist/Author
Anthony Horowitz Author/Screenwriter
Louise Hulland TV/Radio Presenter/Author
Conrad Humphreys Round the world yachtsman/TV Presenter
Gloria Hunniford TV Presenter/Broadcaster
John Inverdale TV Presenter/Broadcaster
Tommy Jessop Actor/Social Activist/Peacemaker
Jane Jessop Founder, Blue Apple Theatre
Sally Joynson Chief Exec. Screen Yorkshire
Soweto Kinch Jazz musician
Dr Turi King Lead Geneticist King Richard III discovery
Steven Knight Screenwriter, Peaky Blinders
Mark Knopfler Musician
Ray Laidlaw Musician 
Paris Lees Writer
James Lewis Antiques expert/TV presenter
Ken Loach Film Director
Stuart Maconie Broadcaster/Author
Miriam Margolyes Actor
Paul Mayhew-Archer Script writer/Producer
Vicky McClure Actor
Paul McGann Actor
Debbie McGee TV Personality and Radio host
Steph McGovern Journalist/TV Presenter
Jimmy McGovern Writer
Liz McIvor Historian/Author/TV Presenter
Ian McMillan Poet/Author/Playwright/Broadcaster
Lula Mebrahtu Musician/Presenter
Kay Mellor Actor/Scriptwriter/Director
Dreda Say Mitchell Author
Blake Morrison Poet/Author
David Morrissey Actor / Filmmaker
Kate Mosse Author
Chris Mullin Author & former MP
Rebecca Munro Director of Fundraising & Comms RSPB
Steve Nallon Actor/Writer/Voice Artist
Johnny Nelson Broadcaster/former world champion boxer
Kirsten O'Brien TV & Radio presenter
Mary-Ann Ochota Anthropologist/Broadcaster
Prof. Mark O'Shea Herpetologist/Broadcaster
Chris Packham Naturalist/Author/TV Presenter
Ben Parkinson Military Veteran
John Phibbs Historian/Landscape Consultant
Fiona Phillips TV Presenter / Author
Johny Pitts Presenter / writer
Tom Price Actor/Broadcaster
Mark Radcliffe Author/Broadcaster
Satnam Rana Arts and Culture Correspondent
Dame Esther Rantzen Broadcaster/Journalist
Adil Ray Actor
Angela Rippon Broadcaster/Journalist
Dr Ben Robinson Archaeologist / TV Presenter
Paul Rose Broadcaster/Environmentalist/Explorer
Jasvinder Sanghera Campaigner for Gender Equality
Miranda Sawyer Journalist/Broadcaster
Alexei Sayle Comedian/Actor/Author
Martin Shaw Actor
Wendy Shepherd Gender Based Violence Training and Consultant
Dr Ranj Singh Doctor/TV Presenter/Author
Lemn Sissay Poet / Author / Chancellor of Manc. University
Helen Skelton TV presenter
Sir Tim Smit Founder Eden Project / Broadcaster
Sue Smith Broadcaster/former international footballer
Dr Chris Smith Doctor/Broadcaster
Alison Steadman Actor
Richard Taylor-Jones Filmmaker/Photographer/TV Presenter
Stephen Tompkinson Actor 
Rick Wakeman Musician/Music Producer/Broadcaster/Author
Donald Wales Record Breaking Driver
Nick Wallis Presenter
Dominic West Actor
Kevin Whately Actor
Anna Williamson TV Presenter
Shaun Williamson Actor
John Wood Social Media Expert
Yasmin Zaman Guru
Benjamin Zephaniah Poet / Musician

Tags: , bbc, inside out, politics, cuts, current affairs