Boothroyd enters the battle for Radio 4

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Betty Boothroyd, Speaker of the Commons, yesterday added her voice to the growing band of public figures lining up against James Boyle, controller of Radio 4, and his planned changes to Middle England's favourite radio station.

Miss Boothroyd told Labour MP David Winnick, who raised a point of order about planned changes to Yesterday in Parliament, that she would make representations to the BBC on behalf of the House. She said the concern expressed by members was "shared by millions of people outside and I certainly share it myself".

She told Mr Winnick: "May I suggest that you may like to refer this matter to the Select Committee on National Heritage for them to have a look at. In knowing the views of this House, I will certainly make representations on behalf of the House to the BBC myself."

Reports at the weekend suggested that Mr Boyle plans to incorporate Yesterday in Parliament into the Today programme as a panel discussion slot.

Other MPs lined up to criticise Mr Boyle's plans - which have yet to be made official - and an early-day motion condemning any changes to the programme has already attracted 60 MPs' signatures. Gerald Kaufman, likely to be reappointed chairman of the National Heritage Select Committee, has also added his voice to the concerns.

The BBC acknowledges that Mr Boyle is taking on one of the most vocal and easily upset constituencies in the country. "For every programme there is a constituency," said a BBC insider yesterday. "From Parliament, to the National Farmers' Union upset about Farming Today, to disabled lobbyists worried about Does he Take Sugar we are going to get it in the neck from all over."

Mr Boyle said earlier this year that he would not be "held hostage" by vested interests. However, it is apparent that he faces opposition from both inside and outside the BBC.

As soon as he made a presentation of his plans to senior executives last week they were leaked to weekend newspapers. Commentators such as Sir Roy Strong, former director of the Victoria & Albert museum and Lord St John of Fawsley, in his capacity as a former arts minister, were immediately rolled out to condemn the proposals. When a listener offered on Feedback in 1994 to form a campaign to prevent Radio 4 long wave being turned over to an all-news service, 12,000 listeners immediately wrote offering to join.

This campaign has metamorphosed into Radio 4 Watch, which BBC insiders dismiss as a "self-appointed lunatic fringe". It takes more seriously the lobbying group Voice of the Listener and Viewer, which includes John Tusa and Sir David Puttnam as patrons.

To offset protest from listeners Mr Boyle, armed with a team of researchers, addressed the VLV in April about the thinking behind his programme review.

This prompted Jocelyn Hay, chairman of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, to say that "programmes could not be set in stone" and warn only that any changes needed to be made gently.

Comments