THE BBC's new round of cutbacks will have its worst impact on popular regional current affairs in England – despite this being a big hit with viewers, and despite a pledge to protect this programming at the renewal of the BBC Charter, the NUJ can reveal.
The BBC is proposing to cut 20 per cent of its budget across the board. But heaviest cutback outlined is a 40 per cent chop to the budget for investigative current affairs programming.
The current affairs show Inside Out airs separate editions in 11 English regions, broadcast on Mondays at 7.30pm on BBC1.
Taken together, the editions make Inside Out the most popular current affairs show in the UK. The total audience combined for Inside Out programmes is an average of 3.3 million per episode, outperforming Panorama, Newsnight, ITV's Tonight and Channel 4's Dispatches, both in terms of the size of the audience and the share per episode.
Inside Out West covers Bristol and the West of England, and has been confirmed as the worst affected of the region's BBC departments threatened. It has eight permanent staff – already reduced from 10 after two vacancies have gone unfilled.
Staff at BBC Bristol fear that the cuts could decimate a programme that has broken many important regional and national stories. The predecessor to Inside Out West, (Close Up West), first exposed the Bristol heart babies scandal in 1995.
BBC reporter Matthew Hill – who is still the BBC's Bristol health correspondent and is now the leader of the NUJ chapel at BBC Bristol – unveiled the story in a series of bulletins. You can read some of his stories here.
The current plan calls for the 11 Inside Out regions to be reduced to between five and seven. Bristol seems likely to be merged with Plymouth and possibly another region. However, details are sketchy, and staff are worried that the public will not realise the impact the cuts will have.
The concern is not only that jobs will be lost but ultimately the programme itself. The resulting programme will no longer be something truly regional and this loss of focus will alienate audiences and ultimately lead to the demise of Inside Out. This is precisely what happened at ITV when the commercial broadcaster merged several regions – including its Plymouth and Bristol operations. The result was that audiences collapsed, and in 2009 ITV pulled out of regional current affairs altogether.
This decimation of vital regional programming makes a mockery of the Government's objective for localisation and is counterproductive to its so-called ‘Big Society’ as it removes a vital service from communities, support to local democracy and justice and above all holding regional decision makers to account and scrutinising their actions.
The localism agenda is supposed to be a key part of many Government policies, but is being swept aside by the BBC to make cuts. Current affairs output is being protected or enhanced under the BBC's “Delivering Quality First “plans in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - but not in the English regions.
The BBC plans are in theory open to public consultation until December 21st, though journalists whose jobs are under threat seem likely to receive invitations to take voluntary redundancy before that – calling the validity of the consultation into question.
Overall the cuts aim to slash 20 per cent from the national BBC budget and seem likely to involve compulsory redundancies – something the NUJ seems certain to confront. Around 20 jobs are likely to go in regional broadcasting across the West, including five in Gloucestershire, three in Wiltshire, and four at Inside Out West. BBC Radio Bristol would lose seven posts, a quarter of its staff.
Some local radio programmes will be shared between stations to become regional shows, while some will be lost altogether to become national programmes. There are great concerns over losing shows and presenters who have built up a real relationship with their listeners over many years, and who provide a distinctive local service.
Issued by Bristol branch, National Union of Journalists
T: 07811 766072
*Selected Recent Examples of Stories Broken by Inside Out
• Vanessa George child abuse case which won an RTS award
• Inside Out West's investigation into a poorly trained agency nurse who switched off her patient's life support machine by mistake leaving him severely brain damaged. The latter story featured prominently on all network bulletins and was picked up by newspapers all over the world. It even provoked a debate on care standards in the House of Lords.
AWARD to INSIDE OUT WEST for above
Heart Babies Scandal
Inside Out West
BBC Radio Bristol
Government Policies Localism Bill
Government Policies Big Society
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