The BBC appears to inadvertently admitted it’s throwing millions of viewers into a regional news black hole, as local news programmes from Cambridge and Oxford air their final bulletins this week.
Viewers in Bedfordshire and most of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire plus the northern half of Hertfordshire may feel they have been forgotten about, according to what the broadcaster has just told regulator Ofcom.
While Ofcom doesn’t have a say on how the BBC regions are structured, it does need to approve changes to BBC quotas on regional output in accordance with the BBC Operating Licence. As such, the BBC has had to tell Ofcom more details about its cuts to regional services. This document was published by the regulator this week.
In an explanatory footnote, the BBC confirmed the new single edition Look East “will cover Cambridge, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk”.
And South Today will cover “Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, West Sussex, much of Dorset and parts of Berkshire, Surrey and Wiltshire”, incorporating the area covered by BBC Oxford’s TV bulletins.
“Following the changes Look East will cover Cambridge, Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk and South Today will cover Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, West Sussex, much of Dorset and parts of Berkshire, Surrey and Wiltshire.”BBC
Explaining the changes further, the BBC said “news in Cambridgeshire will now be included in Look East [sic]* and news from Oxfordshire in South Today” – a statement that completely disregards anyone living between Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire, including places such as Aylesbury, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Northampton.
* News from Cambridgeshire already appears on a programme called Look East. What the BBC means is the remaining Norwich-based edition going forward.
“While neither the Agreement nor the Operating Licence specify the number of separate regions, the existing quota is based on the current cumulative level of opts.
“These changes will lead to no reduction in the volume of news available to viewers at home, who will instead receive news from a slightly broader region than previously.
“That is, news in Cambridgeshire will now be included in Look East and news from Oxfordshire in South Today.BBC
“Collectively, these changes will reduce the total volume of local news broadcast by the BBC by about 260 hours per year (of which about 190 hours in Peak Viewing Time) but will not impact on our audiences’ experience of the important coverage from these areas.”
So which regional news service will now cover Bedfordshire and most of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire plus the northern half of Hertfordshire?
The transmitter that carried the Cambridge edition of Look East is Sandy Heath, firmly in Bedfordshire. Postcodes in these areas are assigned to BBC One East and ITV Anglia on Sky and Freesat.
Editorially most areas were covered by Look East from Cambridge. Places near the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border were covered by BBC Oxford, where signals from the Oxford (Beckley) transmitter penetrates across the Aylesbury area.
Affected viewers will now see news from either Southampton or Norwich.
Realistically, news stories from places like Northampton, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury or Bedford will continue to be covered by one of the replacement services, regardless of what the BBC has said and they will probably get some prominence initially in an attempt to ease the transition.
But ultimately they will compete against stories from over 100 miles away for airtime on programmes that themselves have seen big cuts in presenter and reporter numbers in the last two years.
So why does the BBC seem to have forgotten these areas?
Is the BBC creating its own narrative, trying to minimise the impact to the regulator and parliamentarians? To frame this as affecting a much smaller geographical area than it actually is? Or does someone not have a map of the BBC regions?
To put it in perspective, the number of people in the affected counties is greater than the number of people living in some of the BBC’s other broadcast regions.
As Roger Mosey, former head of BBC News put it: “…yes, the BBC needs to save money; and the government is to blame for freezing the licence fee. But regional and local broadcasting are taking a big hit – and they’re essential for public service.”
PICTURED: BBC Look East and BBC South Today opening titles. COPYRIGHT: BBC.