Politics: BBC restores parliamentary coverage after long wave exile

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNORS of the BBC announced a shake-up of Radio 4's parliamentary coverage yesterday, which will see some programmes broadcast on FM again after more than a year on long-wave transmission only.

The decision is a partial victory for MPs, who have complained bitterly that Radio 4 was shunting coverage of Parliament into late-night and LW slots to make way for more popular programming.

The BBC Board of Governors said yesterday that the flagship Yesterday in Parliament programme would get a new early summary slot on FM and LW during the Today programme, while the week-night Today in Parliament, currently on LW only, would return to FM, Radio 4's main wavelength.

The decision by the Radio 4 controller, James Boyle, to relegate Yesterday in Parliament to LW only in April last year provoked protests from MPs, who have been campaigning for its restoration to FM.

But the BBC says that Radio 4's current morning format - which has Today continuing through to 9am on FM while the political coverage is on LW after 8.30am - has proved popular with listeners.

The governors launched a review of parliamentary broadcasting in March, and yesterday announced their conclusions. They said Radio 4's autumn schedule should include:

t Today in Parliament returning to FM as well as LW five nights a week at 11.30pm;

t The addition of a daily Yesterday in Parliament briefing of at least five minutes during the Today programme at 6.45am on FM and LW;

t Retaining an extended Yesterday in Parliament programme in the 8.30- 9am slot on LW only;

t Switching The Week in Westminster back to its former Saturday morning slot on FM and LW;

t Increasing the trailing of Yesterday in Parliament and Today in Parliament during FM programmes.

When Radio 4 took Yesterday in Parliament off the FM frequency in April last year, the audience for the programme fell by 73 per cent. Shifting The Week in Westminster from Saturday mornings to Thursday nights saw its audience shrink by 65 per cent. In a statement yesterday the governors said: "We concluded that such a loss in audience reach did not represent `appropriate prominence' for Parliamentary broadcasting. It is clear to us that we need to take action to put things right."

A spokesman for the BBC said it expected the changes would increase the total weekly audience for Radio 4's parliamentary coverage by more than one million listeners. He said: "As far as we are concerned the main point of these changes is that they will give greater reach to our parliamentary broadcasting, and where appropriate take in the new devolved assemblies."