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25 October 2011

On MPs and Self Interest

The future of BBC Local Radio will be discussed in parliament tomorrow. Well, actually it's in the annex. Westminster Hall. And at 0930 in the morning, before the main business of the day gets underway.

The ownership of BSkyB, in contrast, got green benches and questions in the main theatre.

After all the drama of the tory rebellion on the referendum vote on Monday, and with the latest twists in the Euro crisis the subject of breathless speculation from political correspondents (whose annual travel expenses alone would probably pay for a clutch of local radio journalists) it is, after all, unlikely to be the highlight of the week for many elected Members.

But perhaps it should be, and for one simple reason: for the majority of backbenchers, exposure to their constituents on BBC Local Radio is likely to be the highlight of their personal media profile.

With declining sales in regional newspapers, the near-death experience endured by ITV regional news and the retreat from anything to do with politics in my old stamping ground of commercial radio the regular invitation from the local BBC station to participate in a discussion is increasingly the only mainstream contact between Honourable Members of all parties and the commoners who voted them in.

True, some politicos have taken to social media with Tweets and Facebook entries .. but without questioning from a professional and impartial interviewer much of the blogging and tweeting is self-serving, more akin to the election leaflet than critical debate.

My fear remains that the 'Save BBC Local Radio' campaign is doomed to failure because the groups who really value the output are too discrete to make much of an impact. And also, it must be said, too discreet. The over 55 generation are the children of the second world war and its immediate aftermath, brought up to be grateful for what they have and never to make too much of a fuss.

But they do vote. A lot more conscientiously than (for example) 6music supporters, who probably find polling stations with pencils and paper and string and boxes so analogue and tiresome, darling, and not alternative enough to even be thrillingly retro.

So perhaps those same parliamentarians who show such a keen instinct for self-preservation when issues like boundary changes, expenses or reform of the House of Lords are on the agenda might be persuaded to stir themselves when it comes to protecting their own channels of communication with the punters who put them on the green benches.

The message is also being quietly but consistantly repeated by many of us involved in the training of new broadcasters from diverse backgrounds that cutting Local Radio opportunities for new talent and silencing new voices from a broad range of communities will very quickly impoverish the 'core services' the BBC is so keen to protect, including children's output and even the blessed Radio 4.

I'll be listening in on the debate tomorrow. Early. I'll give reaction here in due course.

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