Stephen Glover: The BBC is wrong to cut back local radio
Media Studies: Incompetent councillors and dodgy businessmen will draw comfort from the announcement
Monday 10 October 2011
Incompetent councillors and dodgy businessmen must have drawn comfort from last week's announcement by Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, about cutbacks to local radio and television. Although most local stations are run on a shoestring, the axe is falling harder on them than on better funded parts of the Corporation.
Local radio in particular will suffer. During the afternoon the output of your local station will amalgamate with that of one or more of its neighbours. Between 7pm and 10pm there will be national programming shared by every station, which makes a nonsense of the very notion of local radio, while throughout the night you will be forced to listen to Radio 5 Live if you turn on your local station.
Dozens of local newspapers have closed down in recent years as a result of the flight of classified advertising to the internet, and some dailytitles have become weekly ones. Papers which survive have cut back their editorial staffs. The result is that in most parts of the country there are fewer reporters holding police, officials and other bodies to account. BBC local radio and television may not always be brilliant at fulfilling this role, but they have been able at least partly to fill the gap left by the decline of the regional press.
I appreciate that cuts have to be found somewhere as a result of the Government freezing the licence fee until 2016. But it doesn't seem fair to ring-fence Radio 4 from any cuts at all, excellent though it is, while reducing local radio's budget by 4.2 per cent. In order to save £27m across the English regions – less than 3 per cent of BBC1's entire budget – local television news will have fewer bulletins, and neighbouring regions will share current affairs programming.
In proposing these cuts, which are supposedly being put out to consultation until the end of the year, the BBC has been thinking only of itself, balancing the interests of its various outlets against one another. But in the case of local television and radio it should have also been weighing its wider social and civic duty as a public service broadcaster to supply proper local news, unfashionable a consideration though that may be to its metropolitan mandarins.
If the Corporation's national news coverage were fractionally weakened by the cuts – though I doubt it will be – we could console ourselves with the thought that there are other excellent national broadcasters as well as a robust national press. Not so with radio and television in the regions, where rival broadcasters have retreated or never arrived, and newspapers are much weaker than they were. A dodgy businessman or incompetent councillor may escape the notice of a BBC local station required to cover several large towns and pump out national news. The Corporation should think again.
News of the World is wiped from history
Two Pakistani cricketers are on trial at Southwark Crown Court, accused of conspiring to fix a Test at Lord's last year. It is alleged that former captain Salman Butt ordered two team-mates to bowl no-balls at specific moments in return for substantial cash bribes.
This case would not have come to court were it not for the now defunct News of the World. Its famous reporter Mazhar Mahmood (aka "the fake sheikh") posed as a businessman, allegedly passing money to agent and former football club owner Mazhar Majeed. The paper's purpose was to expose corruption in cricket, and if the defendants are found guilty it will have succeeded.
And yet some reporting of the trial does not mention the widely derided News of the World. ITV's News at Ten last Wednesday reported the opening day of the case without naming the paper by name. Mazhar Mahmood was referred to as "a journalist".
I understand that the News of the World has become a non-paper, universally loathed and now written out of history. Even so, if a celebrated racketeer saved the life of a drowning girl the media would mention his name. Notwithstanding the evils of phone-hacking we shouldn't forget the paper did some good things.
Throwing it away for politics
It was with some shock that I read that Julian Glover, a leader writer on The Guardian, is becoming David Cameron's chief speechwriter. The shock is not that a Conservative leader should wish to hire someone from a leftish newspaper – Mr Glover (no relation, by the way) is said to be a liberal Tory. No, the surprise is that a talented journalist should throw away a promising career to become a wordsmith for Mr Cameron.
There was a time when a leader writer could happily moonlight as a political speechwriter. William Rees-Mogg describes in his recent memoirs how as a young chief leader writer on the Financial Times in the mid-1950s he wrote speeches for Anthony Eden, putting words into the Prime Minister's mouth about the Suez crisis when he was writing on the same subject for his newspaper. When I joined The Daily Telegraph in 1978, there were two leader writers, the great TE Utley and Alfred Sherman, who helped Margaret Thatcher with ideas and phrases.
Such a combination of seemingly clashing duties may offend modern sensibilities, but I am far more shocked that Mr Glover should have sacrificed a great journalistic future for a here-today, gone-tomorrow politician.
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