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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lloyd

Clinging to the wreckage

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

Through gritted teeth, DCMS makes clear once more its frustration at the BBC’s plans for local radio.

“We continue to be concerned over the Digital First strategy at the BBC and how it will impact on the future of radio”.

Privately, views within DCMS are even stronger.

We know too that even rival MPs are united in opposition to the crazy strategy.

The BBC ploughs on nevertheless. The broadcaster we pay for - established under statute to serve its public - proceeds with its folly bearing a ‘we know better’ smirk.

Let’s nail the myths.

The BBC suggests: money destined for local radio needs re-channelling into online because that’s where news is found.

The facts are: listeners hold a different view. Whilst news is valuable, they attach importance to the unique value of radio – the companionship and friendship it provides when in capable hands.

The BBC suggests: radio is dying. The local radio graph shown to its managers as this madness was first discussed, suggested that BBC local radio’s audience would decline to zero in the near future.

The facts are: BBC local radio’s audience decline is because of a succession of failed programming strategies and, on many stations, poor implementation. Even now, the Head of Nations responsible for this mess appears utterly bemused about the target audience of his stations. Other radio brands have not experienced such decline, despite the fast-changing competitive environment.

The BBC suggests: linear radio is dying. Yes, listening habits are changing and most things die in the end - but just now, Rajar predicts 98% - yes 98% - tune in at least once a month – and it measures 88% listen in the course of a week. The recent Enders report stated: ‘radio listening has remained very high over the past century’! Of most relevance, radio for the generation which makes up the majority of BBC local radio’s listening is not going anywhere any time soon.

The BBC suggests: it is short of cash, owing to a tough licence fee settlement and an uncertain funding future.

The facts are: the BBC has more than enough cash to do its job. Many of those working in local radio can suggest many ways of running things more efficiently if the goal is to service audiences on-air and online well. Blame ‘the Government’ for many things, but this matter is simply poor BBC leadership and management.

Ofcom says: it consulted several times on these changes.

The facts are: the consultation was not delivered in accordance with Ofcom's own published principles in terms of clarity. The extent of the plans for BBC local radio were unclear – impenetrable to listeners. Ofcom also failed in the drafting of the Operating Licence - it seems highly likely that the latitude the BBC now enjoys in local radio was accidental.

The BBC says: “We respect each other – we’re kind and champion exclusivity”. Indeed, that’s one of the BBC Values.

The facts are: The Head of Nations could not even remember this part of its Values when I interviewed him. And if you were to read my DMs you’d see the tearful truths.

“Not once in these last few months have I received a call/email/text asking how we are. Sure there’s the weekly email with a reminder than management are happy to chat. But for all their virtue signalling about caring for staff, they really don’t.”

This whole process has led, for some people, to over a year of stomach-churning uncertainty. Only the most flawed, most inefficient, most inhuman team could deliver the strategic outcomes quite so painfully – with such little self-awareness.

The BBC says: its technology would be ready for the changes (My interview the Director of Nations).

The facts: It has failed many times already with gaps on-air and failed bulletins. I attach little blame to the broadcast engineers and operating teams, it seems to me the plans were not discussed in a timely accurate fashion with the right people. What the BBC is seeking to do is much less complicated than processes underway already across the commercial sector.

The BBC says: It would continue to provide a solid local radio service, not least in times of crisis.

The facts are: It has failed. Some of the already regionalised services include programmes delivering little value, despite the valiant efforts of presenters on the ground, many of whom do not know their patch nearly as well as those who were booted out.

The analysis by my good friend Keri Jones on Radio Devon’s coverage of the recent flooding is a sobering illustration. I have received a less than substantive BBC reply to my complaint, so the matter is now with Ofcom. I wait to see whether they will intervene with as much energy as they appear to do with penniless community stations.

Surely the game is over

The implementation of this plan drives a coach and horses at high speed through the BBC’s Values.

Aside from the self-evident contravention of the value headlined Respect, as is evident from the above and the appalling staff survey scores, another one of its Values has been breached: Accountability. The BBC is supposed to be accountable, yet its complaints process is cursory; and under the same umbrella it is required to attach real importance to: ‘delivering work of the highest quality’. It isn’t doing.

The BBC holds others to account daily in its programmes and calls for their resignations. Yet those whom we pay handsomely at the BBC to do the job honourably are failing in theirs. Their strategy is naieve, their implementation egregiously bad. This most distinctive of services, filling a gap where commercial radio struggles to afford to exist - and one which is most popular outside London - is to be sacrificed.

If the senior executives really believe in the BBC’s reputation.

If they really care.

If they put honour over self-interest.

They will now speak out – or resign.

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