Now is not the time for the BBC to be cutting back its political programmes

This week the BBC announced changes to its political programming. When I say changes, I mean cuts. BBC Parliament will just cover Parliament and the devolved assemblies when they are sitting and the UK wide Sunday Politics is axed.

The main changes are outlined here:

A new team giving better digital and social coverage – including podcasts – of politics and parliament for audiences who are increasingly getting their news online, especially on mobiles. In an era of concerns about misinformation and ‘echo chambers’ this is designed to bring trusted impartial political coverage to younger audiences

A new daily political programme – Politics Live – which will replace Daily Politics from Monday to Friday.

A new BBC One half hour stand-alone Sunday Politics programme for each of the nations and English regions, replacing the ‘opts’ currently shown within the Sunday Politics. This will now be shown immediately after Andrew Marr. The UK-wide network edition of Sunday Politics will no longer be broadcast after this month (July).

A changed schedule for BBC Parliament: the channel will still broadcast live and replayed coverage of Parliament and the devolved parliaments and assemblies, but will no longer make bespoke programmes and will not air in the weeks when the UK Parliament or the devolved Parliaments and assemblies are not sitting.

This country is at a really turning point. What happens in the next year could set us back for generations. You would think, then, that coverage of political events should be enhanced, not cut back.

The cuts to BBC Parliament will mean that coverage of the Party Conferences will not be shown live. Certainly there aren’t debates to speak of at Conservative Conferences and Labour get rid of anything controversial behind closed doors but it’s important for voters to be able to see how political parties make their decisions. If the BBC is going to be there filming anyway, surely it might as well go up? It also makes it easier for party members who can’t be at Conference to see what is going on. We have been streaming our stuff anyway for ourselves these past few years but it’s one thing it going out on our You Tube channel and quite another on a national platform.

I can see the argument behind the Marr/Sunday Politics decision. They are two very similar programmes and there’s an argument you don’t need both. However, if I had to choose between Andrew Marr and Sarah Smith, it would be Sarah Smith every time for me. She will give people quite a hard time and asks the big questions that Marr often ducks.

It bothers me that the opportunity for politicians to be closely questioned and scrutinised are being cut back. In recent years, BBC Scotland has cut its nighttime Newsnight equivalent and its Friday lunchtime political debate programme.

What worries me most about BBC coverage is that they seem to think that impartiality means giving equivalence to arguments with no proper analysis. They also don’t give a wide enough range of views. Despite our unique viewpoint, we struggle to get coverage on the prime time news programmes.

This really isn’t the time for there to be less politics on tv. There is an argument for better political coverage, though. I’m not hopeful from this announcement that this will be the case. It’s a time for in-depth analysis and not glossing over stuff with soundbites.

The BBC should think again about these cuts.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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14 Comments

  • Tony Greaves 15th Jul '18 - 7:26pm

    Of course it is a disgrace that the BBC is cutting back on politics. It will be even more of a disgrace if the BBC do not start to treat politics seriously again and stop regarding it as a kind of entertainment. As for giving fair coverage to the Liberal Democrats, don’t hold your breath. But watch out for a lot more Farage as the Tory rows get even bigger. The BBC are already a disgrace.

  • Frankly the Sunday Politics is boring. Most people don’t want their politics like than anymore. Keeping the regional segments is welcome. The loss of party conference coverage though is tragic.

  • John Marriott 15th Jul '18 - 8:38pm

    Whether we like it or not, we are dumbing down as a nation. When programmes like “Love Island” top the viewing figures we really are on a slippery slope. For those of us, who do venture out into the real world, where people make up their minds on issues through rumour, usually fuelled by social media and the popular press, this comes as no surprise.

    It’s no wonder that the BBC is limiting its output, given the pressures on its finances, which are set to continue.

  • The BBC still quotes it’s core mission as ‘to inform, educate and entertain’.

    There are occasional ‘gems’ but, on the whole, the BBC is a shadow of what it once was.
    I rarely watch the BBC political news as I find it shallow rather than impartial and informative; I don’t find it helps to educate me on politics and world events and, as for entertaining, John Marriott”s “dumbing down” applies more often than not.

  • Sadie Smith 15th Jul '18 - 9:22pm

    Mixed views. We need intelligent political coverage.
    Losing Daily and Sunday politics will be no loss provided presentation is better. Losing This Week as it stands might help. Regional Sunday politics will e mixed. West Midlands is pretty poor, though others are better.
    A loss would be the versions which cover the nations.
    Sorry if Parliamentary Channel is cut . They have balancedimaginatin with general cover.
    I think they are responding to the competition. Not convinced it will be better, just thinner. If Neill remains, no change.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Jul '18 - 9:43pm

    We need real political programmes. What we don’t need is polarised arguments. We need real politics in the sense of the allocation of power.

    About 95% of current political programmes in this country could safely be killed off. I’d start with the party leader TV debates around the elections.

    And when we’ve done cutting back political programming we can then move on to the numbers of politicians.

  • William Fowler 16th Jul '18 - 8:33am

    As the Beeb pays obscene salaries to many presenters even with a frozen license fee, I really can’t see any reason why the public should pay yet more and a good case can be made for paring it back to under £100 and capping salaries at 50k.

  • Arthur Trussel 16th Jul '18 - 9:12am

    This is terrible news. I hold the BBC partly responsible for the ignorance that brought about brexit. I hope the other providers start their own discussion, in depth and serious questioning type of programs.

  • The regional inserts of the Sunday Politics are uniformly dull. A bit nervous when I was due to appear on one, the kindly party press officer reassured me: “It’s alright no-one watches it!”

  • William Fowler 16th Jul '18 - 3:37pm

    David Raw, suspected someone was going to mention that… but entertainment, you have wave after wave of raw talent coming through and whilst the old stalwarts might disappear with their magnificent pensions etc (many would probably keep working for the Beeb out of loyalty/prestige anyway) lots of keen youngsters would replace them, keen to make their mark. You can imagine some snarling, angry young man interviewing May or Corbyn and breaking all the rules! They might be snapped up by Sky et al but plenty more to replace them.

  • @Ruth Bright

    My understanding is that as a whole the regional political programmes have quite good ratings – but obviously you have to divide by some 10 regions. There is quite a large section of society for whom they are the only local/regional politics they will consume. There were also quite large cutbacks made to them a few years ago. Certainly in the South – they used often to be outside broadcasts – bringing the audience in to question local politicians etc. – virtually unique. Now they are manly studio based and recorded ahead – say on the Friday to save money.

    it is massively disappointing that the BBC are cutting back on political content on BBC Parliament. The content budget for the channel is £1.6 million out of BBC spending of £2,700 million. Some like the reflective interviews with the likes of Shirley Williams, Steve Richards’ reflections on key political events, and book reviews were unique and brought true context to politics – lacking anywhere elsewhere.

    As has been said a few percent off the salaries of news presenters and reporters paid more than £100k would pay for the cuts – i am not sure why reading an autocue or parroting some words as a reporter in what are relatively easy reporting jobs should demand such vast salaries. The difficult reporting jobs are actually going out and finding a story or investigative reporting.

    i do agree with @David Raw that This Week is virtually unwatchable in trying to be too quirky.

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