MEDIA - Time for politicians to fight for their broadcasting rights

It is high time that politicians started to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the way broadcasters are demoting the reporting of Parliament and policy issues in general.

It is high time that politicians started to ask some pretty

fundamental questions about the way broadcasters are demoting the

reporting of Parliament and policy issues in general.



From the advanced plans by ITV to scrap News At Ten, to a complete

reworking of the system of party political broadcasts, including

scrapping the Chancellor’s Budget address to the nation, cutting back is

the name of the game.



It is sadly symbolic that the 20th anniversary of the introduction of

microphones and subsequent live radio broadcasting from Parliament

should be marked by the decision to drop Yesterday in Parliament from

Radio 4’s FM Today programme - the move just ratified by the board of

governors.



Now I’m not up in arms about it as are some commentators, because it

will continue on Radio 4 long wave, by far the easiest frequency to

access.



It is only a minor disgrace. The battle to save the hallowed long wave

from rolling news five years ago has at least allowed this safeguard of

splitting the service. But I am uneasy about the hostile attitudes

senior BBC executives display privately towards the programme, which

will inevitably see its audience tumble.



Its critics see it as about ’yesterday’s’ business. But for many it

provides an invaluable reliably edited summary, usually helped along

with a modicum of wit. The fact it has taken time to compile and digest

adds value. Key debates often happen late at night, and are not reported

in the morning papers. I cannot think of a better definition of a public

service programme, bang in line with the BBC’s licence fee

commitments.



Then consider advanced plans to move the main ITN news to 6.30 pm with

only the vaguer sop of a new 11 pm bulletin. This would just about

fulfil the letter of the law but for many working people, it is too

early. One reason for having a news at ten is that it can cover key

Parliamentary votes. Moving it is considered by the ratings-hungry ITV

as a magic cure-all. Yet I know that even aggressive advertisers are

getting cold feet, since the current programme’s comparatively upmarket

audience (six million on average) has crumbled less than those for many

less taxing ITV programmes. To blithely throw awayone of ITV’s defining

programmes is incredible.



As for the party broadcasts: reform is essential since regional

parliaments have to be elected. The overly bold proposals authored by

the BBC last January got off to a terrible start - partly because of

very poor PR. Now broadcasters are planning research to remind

politicians - led by critic Peter Mandelson - how ordinary people turn

off. But politicians have a limited right to talk directly to the

nation. They must certainly fight hard to keep the Budget broadcast.

Some things are institutions.



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