BBC responds to Union fears of “dumbing down” local radio news
Helen Thomas, the Director of BBC England says the BBC’s commitment to local news “is staying just as strong as it’s always been.”
She was responding to a press release from the National Union of Journalists, which said that members were “deeply concerned” that a restructure of BBC local radio would lead to “‘fluffy stories’ and more music.”
The NUJ said that BBC staff were told that some roles would be moved into a “content job family” which would see journalists working on roles other than news-output.
Following a nationwide meeting of Union reps, the NUJ issued a statement that BBC local radio journalists fear that this would result in “less robust political reporting and holding those in power to account.”
The NUJ added that it was concerned that local radio stations would lose their distinctive nature as bulletins will be made shorter and follow a set format:
“Local radio news is about connecting with local communities. It is about reflecting their lives and producing warm-hearted human interest stories,” said Paul Siegert, NUJ National Broadcasting Officer.
"But it is also about holding local politicians, businesses, health trusts and schools to account. Our reps in local news believe the new format will downplay “serious” news and are deeply concerned. This must be seen in the context of commercial radio producing less locally-produced news and the lack of investment in local newspapers. BBC management needs to answer these questions about the future of local radio news content.”
The BBC responded to Prolific North saying that all 39 BBC local radio stations have “and will continue to have a political reporter, holding those in power to account" and that all stations will have a news editor "based at the station with a fully staffed newsroom." They would not be reducing the current number of journalists at each station.
“Providing local news and information is at the heart of what our local radio stations do and always will be. Any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue and misleading," said Thomas.
“Right now, the need for local news has never been greater and I’m proud our teams in local radio have risen to the moment so brilliantly, providing vital local information to communities across the country throughout the pandemic. Our commitment to local news is staying just as strong as it always has been and that’s why we have recently launched three additional temporary outputs in Bradford, Wolverhampton and Sunderland.”