The Things We Do For Love

I’m a little bit sad today. Part of the BBC’s cuts have hit one of the Corporation’s most useful – and sometimes controversial – products. The chances are that unless you work for the BBC you won’t have seen it. But if you love broadcasting you’ll have almost certainly have heard of it.

Ariel, the BBC’s staff newspaper, has printed its final edition – and although the magazine will continue online, there’s part of me that will miss the weekly mixture of propaganda from Internal Communications and frank views from staff. Indeed, someone once asked me if I was going to publish a book of my letters to Ariel – which at one stage gained near-legendary (and weekly) status.

Ariel - the "Pravda" of the BBC
Ariel – the “Pravda” of the BBC

Talking of inside knowledge, I’m going to hand part of my blog today over to a colleague from BBC Radio Humberside who, with just days to go before the BBC Trust’s consultation on the cuts ends, provides one of the most honest insights I’ve ever seen into the workings of a Local Radio Station.

Andy Comfort’s article for Press Gazette demonstrates perfectly what staff on the ground are thinking about the cuts. It’s well worth ten minutes of your day.
It was good to hear this week how much our beloved Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, places on the value of Local Broadcasting.  He’s announced the first twenty locations in the UK which are set to get their own, new local TV stations. Crucially, the start up costs will largely be funded by a cool £40 million from the BBC Licence Fee.
Hang on a minute – the BBC’s being asked to use public money to fund commercial TV enterprises?
Yes, that’s right. Even though Local Radio is being forced – via the same Licence Fee settlement – to save over £5 million from its own coffers.
Jeremy Hunt gets square-eyed over Local TV
In an optimistic interview, Hunt said:
“Cities much smaller than Nottingham have their own TV station… in Canada, in Sweden and America. You know, you’ve got Trent Bridge, massive local sporting traditions – and I think people like to see local sports, local hospital issues, holding local politicians to account – all on their own local TV station. So I think this is an exciting day for Nottingham.”
It isn’t, of course, the first time that commercial TV has done these things. The old regional structure of ITV, with its strong commitment to current affairs, used to have twice weekly programmes reflecting exactly the kind of things that Mr Hunt wants.
Yet its puzzling to reflect on what happened just a couple of weeks ago in Parliament. During a debate specifically looking at the cuts to BBC Local Radio, Jeremy Hunt concluded that any final decisions were very much a matter for the BBC, and not the Government.
So if I’m reading that right, the Government’s perfectly happy to top slice the Licence Fee to fund the Culture Secretary’s “Train Set TV”, yet it’s the BBC which has to fund the launch – and also pick up the pieces, losing hundreds of jobs in the process.
Nor is it the first time that the idea of ultra-local TV has been mooted. Just a few years ago, the BBC Trust rejected ambitious plans to create a network of local video sites, loosely based on each English county. It was subject to one of the Trust’s robust “Public Value Tests”, but ultimately rejected after a vocal campaign against the plans by the regional newspaper industry. Interestingly, they’re not shouting down the roof on this one.
Let’s hope the BBC Trust ultimately sees the Public Value of Local Broadcasting, as provided by the people who’ve been doing it since the earliest days of our now defunct staff newspaper.

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