- As the future of two of Gloucestershire’s local news programmes are called into question, Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Martin Surl has written to BBC leaders in support of localised current affairs and politics programming.
- In the open letter, Mr Surl raised concern over speculation that Inside Out West Midlands and the Sunday Politics show in the West may cease production because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The open letter, printed below, has been sent to the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall; Director of Nations and Regions, Ken Macquarrie; and Head of BBC England, Helen Thomas.
Dear Mr Hall,
I am writing to you to express my concern at recent speculation that the Corporation is about to end two local current affairs and politics programmes, Inside Out and the Sunday Politics Show in both the West and Midlands regions.
This speculation is fuelled by the news that the scheduled return of Inside Out for September has been postponed and that a review is underway into its future. The Sunday Politics Show in our area – as you know, Gloucestershire is covered editorially by both BBC Regions – has already been replaced by one network-wide programme during the pandemic, and there are fears it may not return.
Having had to manage a multi-million pound police budget through 10 years of austerity, I can identify with some of the issues you must be facing but I would urge you not to target local and regional coverage simply as a means of saving money.
As (one of the few) Independent Police and Crime Commissioners, the need for informed, reliable and independent political coverage is greater than ever. At a time when provincial newspapers are in desperate decline – Gloucestershire’s two main urban centres, Gloucester and Cheltenham now has only one dedicated weekly newspaper following the demise of its two self-governing dailies – the need for an independent voice to hold local politicians to account has never been greater.
If the BBC cuts these local current affairs programmes it will be a major blow to democracy as research has shown there is a link between lack of a local media and low voter turnout. People need to be familiar with their local representatives and local issues. Local people need the opportunity to hear, learn and discuss issues that arise beyond the Westminster bubble.
This, in my view, can only be achieved by journalists who live and work in the community they cover; who know the personalities involved and are able to provide invaluable insight and analysis into local decision making.
And where will it end? Inside Out today, Points West and Midlands Today tomorrow? And what then for BBC Local Radio? Surely the impact and contribution of these local services at times of crisis – and none greater than the current pandemic – cannot have escaped your notice. While everyone loves the big names and productions that are the hallmark of the BBC, surely its local programmes are its bedrock.
I am sure you will be receiving many, many protests along similar lines and I hope you will give our views serious consideration.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire