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
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
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
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.