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26 October 2011

Disappointing Debate

When I eventually found the web feed of the BBC Local Radio debate (on Parliament TV; the BBC itself chose to screen a TV personality, Professor Robert Winston, speaking in the Lords on its own Parliament channel) I was hoping to witness gutsy democracy in action; backbench members using their clout to call on the BBC's senior managers and Trust to think again about cuts which could see one in five local radio staff lose their job.

What I actually witnessed was an unedifying spectacle.

Members spent an hour falling over themselves to deliver a soundbite that would guarantee them prime billing in bulletins broadcast on the threatened stations; gratifying in one sense, in that there was much praise and affection for the stations and for the people making the programmes, but far, far too much of it was general and, to varying degrees, patronising. As I type this junior minister Ed Vaizey is singing a jingle in Westminster Hall for BBC Radio Oxford.

Members failed to get a grip, or a focus.

From time to time a pertinent issue would be mentioned; Radio 4's budget being just a couple of million more than the total budget for all Local Radio in England, say, or the amounts spent covering big events like the Olympics or Glastonbury. The failure to consider the impact of cuts on groups not served by other BBC services, such as elderly people outside the higher social demographics or (arguably) anyone living more than an hour's commute from central London.

But then, just as the tone was getting serious, someone else would chip in with a peon of praise for how their station coped with the snow, or how that cheeky chappie on sport was so good for morale when the Cloggers were six-nil down against the old enemy, and the moment was lost.

Would they have behaved the same discussing Murdoch and the ownership of BSkyB? Probably not, although a couple did try to use the available platform to have a pop at that particular old enemy as well.

So the morning has been and gone; it's caused a flurry, rather than a storm, and will be quickly forgotten by all except the participants, those mentioned, and those affected in one way or another by the cuts. That's the way of much parliamentary debate, after all.

I just hope those same parliamentarians who were so keen for their moment on the 1200 bulletin to reassure the voters in their patches they actually exist, and are working hard for the constituency in that there London, exert at least some pressure on the BBC Trust as the time comes to decide on the proposals.

But at least BBC Radio Oxford has a new jingle.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece, Richard. Rather disappointingly, it seems like I missed nothing at the debate....