Did Russell Brand do for BBC Local? Julian Clover says broadcasters are failing in the provision of local news.
The BBC is rightly held to account over the seemingly endless number of activities in which it becomes involved. Once in a while a line in the sand needs to be drawn and the BBC Trust proved it could hold the corporation to account over the introduction of BBC Local, the BBC’s proposed local video service, which came in for heavy criticism from the local newspaper sector.
Local newspapers have been going through a tough time over the past ten, even 20 years, titles have folded and once paid for titles have emerged as local freesheets.
In the early days of Independent Local Radio, which we should remember only goes back to 1973, newspaper groups would invest in their local radio station in part to safeguard the revenues from what was deemed to be competition. The local stations launched with names that tied them to the local community, the ‘river phase’ gave us Radio Orwell, Radio Tees and Severn Sound, before the American callsign – for no apparent reason – manifested itself through TFM, SGR and even WABC. We even had definitive articles in The Pulse and The Breeze.
Along the way the inevitable consolidation and station mergers with newspapers rarely involved. Saxon, my local station from Bury St Edmunds, opted out of Radio Orwell in Ipswich for about four hours a day. Consequently the DJs were not allowed to say the station name, rather “here at the station” and in the days before Lo-call numbers the telephone number came on a cart machine.
These days networking has spread across the network, you don’t get this in London, but outside the capital a local station might often ‘broadcast’ from halfway across the country. In January Global Radio, which through the acquisition of GCap has tightened its grip on UK radio, will rebrand a number of stations as Heart and this includes my ‘local’ Q103. The Global Radio chairman is Charles Allen, who presided over ITV as the regional identities became submerged into ITV1. There has been debate over the reduction in regional content on the ITV network, but none over its loss in radio, and this includes news.
Local newspapers have begun to embrace new media by including video and even news bulletins on their websites. The BBC, which has a local radio network in England, and regional radio in the National Regions, will continue to offer its regional content on demand, but won’t be extended to extend this.
The character of the East of England has changed since the present TV region came into being in the late 1950s. So much so that the ten-year old Cambridge opt out can often be in complete contrast to the rest of the bulletin. (Plans to produce a separate programme from Milton Keynes have been quietly dropped). Arguably a more localised service is required and while there is BBC local radio it helps to be able to remember the last war to enjoy the programmes fully.
BBC Local came before the trust in the wake of the Russell Brand-Jonathan Ross saga that saw the presenters respectively resign and be suspended while the controller of Radio 2 resigned. A greater question is what BBC Worldwide is doing having a joint venture with failed retailer Woolworths, a matter that falls outside the Trust’s scope, rather than the provision of local news that used to be regarded as public service.