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July 8, 2020

Regional freelance producers and editors protest BBC plans to change regional programming

By Charlotte Tobitt

The BBC’s plans to alter how its regional current affairs programming is made will leave “many viewers very poorly served”, according to production crews who worked on previous output.

The broadcaster last week said it will axe current affairs programme Inside Out, which has 11 regional editions.

It will be replaced by a new fast-paced series of single half-hour investigative journalism films looking at issues of interest from around the country and produced from six regional hubs in Newcastle, Leeds, Norwich, Birmingham, London and Bristol.

The BBC also said it plans to reinvigorate its 11 regional Sunday Politics programmes as part of its intention to improve its political output outside Westminster.

But some 91 freelance producers, editors and camera crew who have worked on Inside Out, Sunday Politics or other BBC regional programming have now written to the BBC Board to protest the plans.

They said that as well as threatening their livelihoods, they “passionately believe that these changes will leave many viewers poorly served, particularly in the South which appears to have borne the brunt of the cuts”.

Each series of Inside Out produced more than 200 diverse stories, they said, “which not only supplies a huge amount of content to the BBC’s regions but also make valuable contributions both to national news programmes and to the corporation’s valued online content”.

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They cast doubt on the capability of a 30-minute programme produced in Bristol as part of the replacement series to “reflect the lives and interests of people living anywhere from Penzance to Gloucester” and said it would be unable to cover “anywhere near the number” of stories given airtime on Inside Out.

“At a time of national crisis, and with so many issues surrounding Covid-19, Brexit, climate change and the shape of our economy and society needing to be addressed at a local and regional level, we strongly believe that the BBC needs to deepen its commitments to the regions, not reduce it,” the letter said.

“To diminish, or even lose focused regional programming such as Inside Out, will undermine the very values on which the BBC is built – namely to reflect and represent the nations’ and regions’ diverse communities and, in doing so, support the creative economy right across the UK.

“Additionally, with the BBC facing an upcoming charter renegotiation, it seems foolhardy to throw away the breadth of programmes that are genuinely unique – particularly given the fact that commercial radio and independent television have abandoned their regional commitments.”

The letter urged the BBC to instead “make the far braver decision to strengthen [regional production], enabling us in turn to continue with our important work of both informing and entertaining all the respective English regions we are so proud to serve”.

Among the 91 signatories are Inside Out South West reporter and presenter Dan Olaiya, The One Show’s wildlife reporter Mike Dilger, wildlife presenter Nick Baker and at least 20 producers as well as numerous lighting camera operators, film editors, directors and independent production companies.

Some 29 jobs will be lost at Inside Out alongside a further 142 jobs in online and TV news across BBC England, where 450 jobs are being axed in total as it looks to save £25m by the end of March 2022.

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC has set out plans to transform its local services in England as it seeks to serve audiences better, respond to lessons learnt during the Covid-19 crisis and make savings to tackle its financial challenges.  That has meant taking some difficult decisions.

“The new investigative programme will consist of 30 minute single films giving us the opportunity to explore in greater depth issues that matter to our audiences. We have chosen to make it from six production hubs that are spread across the country but they will still serve every region of England.”

The BBC has said its vision for its regional and local services includes commissioning a broader range of TV programming that reflects life across England, especially in the North and Midlands.

BBC England director Helen Thomas said: “I’m confident we can evolve our local and regional services while improving our impact and better serving our audiences.”

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