Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Regionalise Me, Mr Birt

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Regionalise Me, Mr Birt

Article excerpt

AS SOMEONE who lives in what the southern English are pleased to call `the regions', it might be imagined that I should be happy about the review which is to be carried out of the BBC's news coverage after the general election.

It is not that as someone from the regions I am deemed to be more stupid than normal and in need of having the news 'dumbed down' to suit my low cranial capacity - that would be too elitist, even for the BBC. No. My desires are to be catered for by another, and hitherto not much remarked upon, aspect of the review - namely greater regional content in the national BBC news. The blathering classes who order such things at Broadcasting House think that the news output at present is much too southern English, and that what is needed is more items aimed at me and my kind.

But at the risk of spoiling the fun, as all those discussion teams and focus groups get under way, allow me to enter a note of dissent. Include me out, if you don't mind. I don't want the tenor and tone of BBC news output to be changed dramatically, and I certainly don't want it 'regionalised', or whatever the current buzzword for such a proceeding is now called. If the BBC is currently too preoccupied with politics and with the world as viewed from London, then that is exactly how I would like it to remain.

I write primarily, but not exclusively, about the BBC's radio news output and specifically Radio Four's, which, from everything we hear, is likely to face the greatest upheaval if the Levellers in charge of this review get their way. And from the note of anguish in his words in last week's Daily Mail, John Humphrys of the Today programme fears that he and his team are likely to be subject to the most intense scrutiny. It must not be allowed to happen.

My special interest in radio is quite straightforward. In the glen in Scotland's southern highlands where I now live, television reception is something of a luxury, and in consequence I find myself huddling over the wireless, searching for Radio Four long-wave (FM reception is all but impossible) on the dial - at times almost like those in wartime occupied Europe who listened intently for the dit, dit, dit . . . dah `London calling' signature of the BBC. Like them, I want to hear the national (that is the United Kingdom) version of the BBC.

I don't want it to have a regional flavour, or at least any more of a regional flavour. As far as that goes, there is more than enough already. Indeed, it has always puzzled me as to why on earth the southern English appear prepared to put up with so much regional output -- especially in drama and documentaries - from the BBC. If it isn't the Irishman Fergal Keane, now BBC correspondent in Hong Kong - or is it South Africa? - wittering on about the birth of his son, it is earthy Scouse plays or pawky tales from Geordieland.

The most frequently voiced criticism of the current output is that it concentrates too much on politics and on what is happening within the M25. Good - leave it like that. Nowhere in broadcasting anywhere in the world are there two programmes finer in examining the politics and politicians of their country than radio's Today and television's Newsnight, and nothing would more suit our current crop of soundbite-trained politicians and serve the voters ill - than to emasculate them by the heavy dilution required to increase the supposed `regional appeal'. …

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