BBC politics gets white, middle-class makeover
Friday 20 September 2002
John Humphrys and Andrew Neil were dumped yesterday from BBC television programmes in an attempt to do away with the "white, male" bias of its political coverage.
But the corporation left itself open to accusations that it was replacing like with like when it announced that Jeremy Vine would present the programme which will replace Mr Humphrys' On the Record and suggested that Rod Liddle, editor of Today, would front a new show aimed at a younger audience.
On The Record will be superseded by a new Sunday political programme with 40 minutes of debate and a 20-minute regional slot. The 15-minute set-piece political interview at the heart of On the Record will remain.
Changes to be introduced in the new year include a new "Yesterday in Parliament" slot each day on BBC Breakfast News and a new Saturday morning show designed for the under-45s.
Mr Liddle and the Radio Five presenter Fi Glover are among the candidates who may present the new programme, designed to reflect the "informal style and attitude" of BBC Radio 5 Live and encourage new viewers to take an interest in politics.
MPs of all parties have warned about the possibility of "dumbing down", but senior BBC executives said they wanted to increase serious coverage and interest more people in politics. Other populist formats include a "back to the floor" show with Michael Portillo and Mo Mowlam.
A political debate programme covering the week in Westminster will follow Question Time, while the daytime Westminster Live programme will be relaunched and feature a two-hour Wednesday morning slot to cover Prime Minister's Question Time, which is likely to be earlier under proposals for reform of the House of Commons.
BBC executives are planning new day-long specials on issues such as transport and education after BBC1's "crime day" on Wednesday.
BBC1 and BBC2 will also feature occasional "beginners' guides" to update viewers on complex running stories.
Breakfast with Frost on Sundays, Newsnight, Question Time and political programmes on BBC Radio will remain unchanged.
The move follows a year-long review of the BBC's coverage of politics prompted by concern about the future of serious political journalism on television. Both Charles Clarke, the Labour Party chairman, and David Davis, then Conservative Party chairman, wrote to the corporation to express their concern.
Executives said they were introducing a "serious package" of reforms, which will nearly treble political programming on BBC1 in an effort to increase viewers from 15 million to 18 million. Political output will increase from 203 hours a year to 222.5 hours a year on BBC1 and BBC2, with an extra 16 hours on BBC News 24.
Richard Sambrook, the BBC's director of news, said the review followed research which showed that large parts of the population were not engaged in politics. "They see a lot of middle-class, white, educated men discussing things which they do not regard as being relevant to their lives, and they see broadcasters as complicit in that," he said.
"We need to show them that a lot of what happens in Westminster does have relevance to their lives. I certainly do not think it's a dumbing-down package. It is quite the opposite.''
But Theresa May, the Conservative Party chairman, said: "We remain deeply sceptical as to whether these changes will avoid a deterioration in the coverage of politics on the main BBC television news bulletins. Most of the new programming is concentrated at times of low available audiences.''
A Labour spokesman said: "We are generally encouraged by the announcement, but we wait to see how the new formats work in practice."
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