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12 October 2011

Forlorn Fightback?

Given the scale of BBC Local Radio cuts under DQF it's not surprising that last week's shock at the size of the savings is turning to anger.

Media Guardian reports that teams on at least two stations, BBC Radio Nottingham and BBC Radio Newcastle are launching leaflet campaigns urging listeners to lobby MPs and the BBC Trust in the hope of forcing a policy reverse like the one that saved the iPhone generation's shiny plaything BBC 6music.

BBC Local Radio staff are not, by nature, aggressive.

Their job involves a lot of smiling and nodding and empathising as they tease usable cuts out of inarticulate punters, or persuade some locally based 'expert' to come in at 0630 for comment on what GNS has decided is the issue of the day for no recompense other than a cup of dreadful coffee and a lot of producer TLC (See how I'm getting the hang of these BBC TLAs, BTW)

I was a judge for the Gillard Awards last year, and the decorum on show as dozens of BBC Local Radio staff organised themselves into a rota to board the inadequate shuttle buses between the glittering comforts of the Jury's Inn, Derby and the ceremony venue was a wonder to behold.

Just getting through a door involved much dancing and synchronised stepping-back. Pushy, they're not.

So if BBC Local Radio staff are organising themselves a banner-writing party that means they're pretty aggrieved, and with good reason.

The second point is that it's the staff, not the usual suspects.

Every organisation, the BBC included, has some people in the team who are more - what's the word; active? aware? bolshy? than their workmates. They tend to become the union reps. These are the people who look for the dark cloud behind every silver lining, and who find slights in every new programme schedule or Christmas rota. Others in the office are known to look busy when they come into range, so as not to get involved in the spat.

That's not knocking those who take a stand on plans to scale back pensions, or to freeze salaries; but these are internal issues, and whatever the justice of the argument they're not going to attract sympathy from listeners or the wider public, many of whom (including those working in commercial radio) may think that BBC terms are in any case relatively generous compared to those they are forced to put up with.

The DQF cuts, however, are an attack on what everyone in BBC Local Radio cares about; the output.

Local broadcasters habitually contribute far, far more than is ever written in a contract because of their pride in and commitment to the station. Listeners matter more than in any other service, because the listener is also your neighbour.

So DQF cuts are an attack on something you care about, in the way you care for a child or care for your home; without over-sentimentalising, it's personal.

I tweeted earlier today:
Respect to #BBC teams in Notts & Newc campaigning on local #radio cuts. If 50+ demo was as tech-savvy as #6music hipsters it might just work
Those working inside the Corporation were quick to point out that they've been told not to be seen to be campaigning against DQF cuts to their service, wherever they work in the Beeb. In HR terms that makes a lot of sense.

In political terms it prevents in-fighting providing a smokescreen for the big picture of cuts to a key institution.

In editorial terms it prevents boring audiences with a protracted spell of navel-gazing.
Ye gods, in terms of the media feeding on itself we've only just got over the phone hacking frenzy. The Harry Potters of this world still nurture dreams of another twitch from that dead horse.

Despite that, the teams in Nottingham and Newcastle (according to Media Guardian; I have no independent verification) appear to be taking a stand. That stand must have the tacit approval of their managers; it stands to reason you can't put leaflets on reception or even hand 'em out in the street without a discreet nod.

I have the very greatest respect for the editors and managers who do permit at least a controlled degree of fight from their teams; to steamroller dissent in the current circumstances would beg the question as to how much the bosses really care for the services they control. They'll end up the meat in the sandwich as senior management implement difficult decisions, and the teams they lead fight to save that which is precious to them and the listeners. Not an easy time to be in a glass cubicle.

The clinching factor may turn out to be how much collective clout the listeners can exert.

These are 50-plus punters for whom BB means Basildon Bond rather than Blackberry. The Facebook campaigns, Twitterstorms and protests which greeted Mark Thompson's BBC 6music closure announcement won't be replicated. The services threatened are too diverse, both in terms of content and geography.

So can this Mum's and Dad's Army of lower middle England; Dave, Sue, the guy who texts in to Breakfast every morning, the pensioner patiently waiting to ask a question about dahlias, the van man wound up about immigration, the bloke in milk-bottle specs in the front row at the shopping centre OB actually get their act together .. and campaign effectively?

I think it's too early to predict. Watch this space.


  1. Sound words. If any listeners do want to spend a few hours of their time in an effort to stop these cuts they can email us at savelocal@bbcradioforum.co.uk and we will be in touch. For the record we are an independent listeners forum.

  2. For BBC local radio listeners in Merseyside BB ain't Basildon Bond, it's Billy Butler.