Birts admits BBC has London bias

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The BBC is too London- based and 'must make a huge leap forward in reflecting life, activity, culture and events in the whole of the UK,' John Birt, the corporation's director-general said yesterday.

In a speech in Glasgow, Mr Birt conceded that the BBC had 'developed far too much' in London, where more than 80 per cent of network television and radio programmes were made.

He rejected quotas for national network programmes from the regions, but said controllers, 'must commission the best possible programmes . . . from the most creative sources right across the UK . . . The intention is to bring about a major expansion of programmes away from London.'

Mr Birt was speaking after a conference which was told that regional audiences were increasingly questioning the need to pay the BBC licence fee because less than one third of the national network programme budget was being spent outside the South-east.

Campaigners for more regional programmes released a report by Pieda, the independent economic consultants, into programme- making in Scotland, which showed that while the country accounted for 9 per cent of the UK population and 8 per cent of licence payers, it received 3 per cent of the BBC's network television budget.

Increasing the share of the budget to about 8 per cent, injecting pounds 28m into the Scottish economy, would generate about pounds 50m, the report says.

Nigel Smith, chairman of the Broadcasting for Scotland lobby group, welcomed Mr Birt's remarks: 'All of us outside the South-east will be watching closely to see whether Mr Birt's fine words translate into fine deeds.'