It sounds pompous but I’ve thought longer and harder before posting this blog than the previous 1090 odd and in writing it, I might well have sidelined myself to the community of cranks and nutters of which the blogosphere is known but the following is my subjective view of the BBC in Kent and South East, based on my impressions and recollection which might well be faulty.
All my life till now, I’ve shared the notion that the BBC’s output on balance is benign, over the years its been accused of bias particularly during the Thatcher years when Mrs T (the friend of democracy) claimed “I have fought three elections against the BBC and don’t want to fight another against it.
Excuse the preamble, the point is the BBC have a strong record nationally of reporting on the political system, in the face of strong critics and because of its depth and volume of reportage it remains neutral overall a good thing for a democracy.
In the last few months its dawned on me that regionally the BBC actually don’t cover local politics in any depth, I accept that most people are bored witless by the national news being dominated by Labour windbags and Tory toffs but the lack of news covering local politics is I feel a scandal.
Tune in any night to BBC 1’s South East Today, there might just be a “hard news story”, almost certainly there will be mind numbing banality, in the last ten minutes of the show, five will probably be devoted to some someone cycling underwater, living in a cave or maybe a bit of animal magic with giant rabbits, loud peacocks etc. then another five minutes spent on inane conversation, between the presenters of the show and one of the three weather girls or the occasionally stand in Fish.
One local source of news and comment should be BBC Radio Kent, every weekday morning it has a three hour, talk based show, (Breakfast with) presented by John Warnett & Julie George, these two are clearly competent professionals, as are the backroom staff and manage to make the banal subjects almost bearable.
I assume that senior BBC management does not to allow these professionals to do anything dangerous, such as discussing the news. And by senior management I mean those who I assume must set policy for BBC regional services as a whole.
The point I would like to make is that this programme in particular is talk based, and you might expect as well as reflecting life in Kent, that some of its output would include perhaps just a modicum of local politics but on more than one occasion big issues, have just seemed to have been buried and certainly not referred to when I’ve tuned in around eight which is generally after I’ve had my fill of Radio 4’s today programme.
Here’s some items I didn’t hear discussed on “breakfast with” in the last month or so, Conservative councillors helping themselves to a large pay increase, Kent council extending Kent TV contract, the resulting row over scrutiny, the report by Yorkshire police in to Kent constabularies policing of last years climate camp, Kent council cancelling Septembers full council meeting.
What you are most likely to hear discussed is inane trivia such as “does your cat do something remarkable?”, “tell us about your funny naked experience”, “what’s your biggest fear?”
One subject that could have had a local dimension, Arlene Phillips getting sacked for being to old for come dancing, this could have been expanded to include colleagues Beverly Thompsett and Geoff Clark from South East Today, also down the river to be replaced by some young uns (the story put out was they wanted a more journalistic approach, I suppose this means that next performing animal on the show will have a microphone thrust in its direction) .
It seems that BBC regional output consists of nothing that would offend or cause a moments thought, even the Taleban could listen unperturbed.
Particularly astonishing to me is the failure to cover the democratic process, I spoke with editor Alex Bish a few weeks ago, who as I understand suggested that Paul Francis of the Kent Messenger group, covering the recent pay hike for Kent councillors had a journalistic coup, in reporting the Tory councillor backed pay hike, of course had any BBC hack bothered or even cared what was going on in this counties principal authority KCC they would have, like Mr Francis spotted the item in the agenda for the first full meeting of the council, which at the time of the MP expenses scandal, would have given a local perspective to national debate.
Some time later I had a conversation with the “management” at BBC radio Kent, it was desultory and I soon lost the urge to penetrate through management waffle and that politicians trick of addressing a question that’s not been asked.
What I glean, from those BBC managers that I have spoken with, in the last year or so, is that the public aren’t interested in politics and maybe not, myself I’m not too interested in endless animal stories on South East Tonight I’m not too keen on vegetables but realise if I avoid them completely I’ll end up dead, just like democracy carried out of sight of public scrutiny, it will wither.
Its my feeling that BBC regional news is no better than Meridian, so the recent suggestion that part of the license fee goes elsewhere although an alien idea is for me is justified and not unreasonable.
In a democracy the process of government should be reported especially local government since this effects us directly, clearly this in not happening with BBC radio Kent or BBC South East. In recent weeks I’ve listened to Breakfast with John Warnett and Julia George and thought what am I hearing that’s unique to Kent, very little.
Last week I emailed this comment to the breakfast programme (they were discussing the citizenship test) “The point of a citizenship test is proving that a candidate is committed, in the same way BBC Radio Kent could make your show cover Kent issues once in a while to justify your public funding” the presenter Julia George thought I was “taking a Pop” or similar and yes I was, as this show most days could be broadcast pretty much anywhere in the world on any station without public funding.
Take my last posting (Cllr Broadhurst) here on Bignews Margate about a councillor who has apparently emigrated to Panama, no contact with local electorate, but managed some how to be marked as present in the council chamber when he wasn’t, surely even a BBC hack could sex up a disappearing Tory councillor, well maybe not although it seemed to have been newsworthy here in Thanet.
Last year one BBC journalist interviewed me about Ten Alps, KCC and Kent TV, broadcasting a fairly innocuous remark I made, the more important issues of my freedom to speak was brushed aside, at the time I was told the public would not be interested in member of the public being pressured not to write about Kent TV by a taxpayer funded contractor, still local blogger Eastcliff Richard managed to rustle up a readable story as did the Sunday Express.
To me the democratic process in Kent is hidden by a state a funded broadcaster who rarely reports.
BBC Radio Kent, seem to pussy foot around Kent’s political structure rarely reporting on it, frankly it makes me feel that locally the BBC have nothing unique to offer the taxpayer, so why are we funding local radio.
Its a shocking reflection on the quality of news output from the BBC that your more likely to find a political story about Kent Council on Bignews Margate than the taxpayer funded BBC, written by someone who shovels ballast for a living, struggles with dyslexia, than a professional journalist.
Anyway unlike the BBC, local politics is not a taboo subject here at Bignews Margate as appears to be the case with our friends “Indifferent of Tunbridge Wells” BBC South East & Radio Kent, feel free to comment.