MPs’ report says BBC’s local radio policy diminishes the service

  • 22 Sep 2023

The BBC’s policy of greater sharing of programming across the local radio network “risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio distinct”, says the cross-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Together with the closure of local TV stations in Oxford and Cambridge, the BBC’s Digital First policy, which is shifting local news from linear radio to online, is diminishing the service for local audiences said the MPs.

The  report quoted remarks made by BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Sophie Little, whose show had been cancelled by the BBC, which described the policy as ableist and ageist. She said: “These cuts are unbelievably unfair to those who need local public service broadcasting the most. Those who are lonely and isolated, or those who are unable to leave their house, or unable to use the internet, or unable to pay for broadband. Those who not only take comfort from the company of a familiar voice coming out of their radio, but who truly rely on it to keep going.”

The comments were removed from the broadcast when it was subsequently made available on the BBC’s digital audio platform, BBC Sounds.

Over the summer a stream of presenters has been saying goodbye to their loyal 5.4m local radio listeners as the BBC’s cuts have rolled out. The NUJ is in dispute with the BBC over the plans and a work to rule is in place and the authority to continue strike action.

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting officer, said:

“This report echoes the concerns of the union and many other MPs who have spoken out about the great damage these plans have caused to the provision of local news. We are pushing for the BBC to reverse its plans and its decision to pre-record news bulletins, which will mean listeners are hearing news that could be out of date. Surely live news bulletins are not too much to ask for. But so far, the BBC refuses to budge.

“It also with great sadness that we are witnessing the departure of presenters who have been totally committed to their local communities, have huge local knowledge, and were seen as great friends by their listeners.

The cross-party committee was reviewing the local radio policy in the context of its analysis of the forthcoming Media Bill. The MPs concluded:

“We continue to be concerned about the impact of the BBC’s Digital First strategy on linear TV and radio audiences. Sharing content across large areas risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio distinct. We are similarly concerned that the direction of travel in linear TV provision could also diminish coverage for local audiences. While we recognise that the latest license fee settlement is difficult for the BBC, its changes to local radio and local TV provision are evidence that the drive to prioritise digital strategies can often come at the expense of local audiences.”

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