The BBC has begun to spell out how it will implement cuts at BBC Local Radio to reprioritize £19 million (about $23.5 million) in funding. The service reductions were announced in October as part of an effort to refocus the broadcaster on a digital-first, multimedia strategy.
In mid-January, the BBC released a revised plan based upon the feedback received.
“We have listened carefully to the feedback we have received about proposed changes to BBC Local Radio programming,” stated Jason Horton, director of production for BBC Local. “As a result, we are making a number of amendments to the original plan in order to strike the best possible balance between live and on-demand services.”
The initial plan would have replaced a number of local programming hours with shared, regional, and national programming. Concerns were quickly raised by staff, listeners, and members of Parliament about the wide scope of the cuts and what it would mean for listeners.
The revised plan still cuts back locally produced programming on weekday afternoons, evenings, and on weekends, but it increases the number and variety of shared programming on offer.
Also announced were plans for more dedicated programming on BBC Local Radio for Black and Asian audiences, including shifting such programs from Sunday evenings to Monday and Friday evenings. The number of stations carrying this community programming would also increase.
To support and incubate local music, a commitment was made to air the music shows “BBC Introducing” and “BBC Upload” on Thursday and Saturday evenings, along with a plan to showcase new music artists more prominently on the BBC Sounds app and across local radio. According to NME, “BBC introducing” receives more than 5,000 submissions from new artists every week.
The initial plan foresaw 179 positions being eliminated at local radio and the creation of 131 new positions at a new multimedia news operation. The BBC did not provide a revision to those numbers with its revised plan.
Deadline reported that BBC journalists are weighing a possible strike or other action to protest the cuts.
Continued criticism of the plan also came from Parliament. On Jan. 17, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee released a report on the sustainability of local journalism, which included a look at the BBC’s plans to reduce local programming.
“Sharing content across larger areas and regions risks undermining the sense of localness that has, until now, made BBC local radio distinct,” stated the report’s authors. “… While we recognise that the latest license fee settlement is difficult for the BBC, we do not consider that the strategy for digital first should come at the expense of local radio and recommend that the Corporation reconsiders its plans.”
Beyond the BBC Local Radio cuts, which affect stations across England, similar cuts were announced in November for Northern Ireland where 36 positions would be reduced to save or redirect some £2.3 million (about $2.8 million). The loss of local news and the morning show at Radio Folye has drawn particular criticism from listeners and political leaders in Londonderry who are concerned it would centralize BBC Northern Ireland’s focus on Belfast.