Democracy In Action

Without local radio, where’s local accountability?


I’ve just finished a fairly busy shift in the newsroom. It started with getting an update on the partial closure of our local A&E Department because of a flood. Then there were a couple of noteworthy overnight fires. And after that I interviewed the leader of a new Street Angels project to find out how the first night of the scheme had gone.


All of these stories were generated locally, by journalists working at BBC Radio Nottingham. So it was somewhat annoying to hear The “media expert” Charlie Beckett – from Polis, the think tank at the London School of Economics – on the Today Programme making THIS sweeping generalisation of how local radio works.

As a radio journalist for more than 15 years, it would be naive of me to take that statement too personally. Of course, there are times when we DO get stories from the local paper, and we’re very grateful for its presence in a pluralistic, open media landscape. But the implicit suggestion here is that there’s little or no original journalism in your typical local radio station. Perhaps he should have been in my newsroom at 6am this morning?

Local Radio and local newspapers haven’t always been the cosiest of bedfellows. Two years ago the local newspaper industry mounted a vocal – and successful – campaign to stop the BBC extending its local output on the web. Plans for ultra-local video news services were dismissed by the BBC Trust as being too costly and too commercial. At the same time, some papers launched into a flurry of producing their own video content. The result was that journalists were so busy gathering multi media material that they had less time to concentrate their efforts on the core product of the printed newspaper. It’s no coincidence that many papers are continuing to see their sales declining at an alarming rate.

At least Mr Beckett goes on to qualify his statement – albeit dismissing the size of the local radio audience.

Right, so an audience of 7 million is not “vast”? Well that’s roughly the same size of the audience as Five Live gets, so maybe we should consider closing that down too?

Thankfully, some people think we should still have accountability. GERRY STOKER Professor of Governance at Southampton University, pointed out that local media played an important part in local accountability

At least local MPs understand the importance of Local Radio. For most of them, it’s a rare opportunity of reaching a sizeable proportion of their constituents in one go. And we often turn to them for instant comment on breaking news stories. It’s an important two way relationship. As is the relationship between our programmes and the audiences that we serve.

As Charlie Beckett freely admits, we might not like every single part of the BBC. But that doesn’t mean that we should therefore close it down. Getting rid of Local Radio might save, at best, a few quid off your annual Licence Fee. Is that what we really want?


Words © NewsMutt 2011/Audio © BBC 2011. The audio used here for illustrative purposes only

2 thoughts on “Democracy In Action

  1. Yep – a good point. 7m in England alone is pretty impressive, I’d say – and collectively it’s grown by 1 million over the past year. I’m not saying Local Radio is perfect – far from it. There’s always room for improvement. But there are some excellent examples of first class output and journalism across the network. And, of course, in times of crisis it comes to the fore.

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