Expert view: Silver lining to the BBC’s clouds

By Damian Radcliffe, Third Sector, 14 November 2007
Now that the dust is settling at the BBC after last month’s announcement of substantial cuts to jobs and programming at the corporation, it’s a good time to look at how the proposals could affect the sector.

Although Auntie could always do more, she has historically been a good friend to us. Children in Need, the weekly charity appeal on Radio 4, the monthly Lifeline charity appeal on BBC One, the corporation’s continuing support for the Community Channel and the Media Trust, its 30-year partnership with CSV…. There’s no doubt that a healthy BBC can play a crucial role in creating an equally healthy and thriving third sector.

However, after a scandal-ridden summer and a lower than anticipated licence fee settlement, is the BBC still in good health, or is it tired and past its peak?

Despite the doomsayers, I would argue it’s still in pretty rude health and still capable of being a good friend to the sector. The proposed MyLocalNow initiative (let’s hope it’s a working title) – an online, broadband, multimedia, interactive service that would build on the popularity of the BBC’s existing local services – will, if it goes ahead, provide local content. This is good news for small community groups that might not want, or be able to get, regional or national coverage for their work.

To get approval from the BBC Trust – the corporation’s governing body – and broadcasting regulator Ofcom, MyLocalNow will probably need to make a decent commitment to user-generated content and citizen journalism (that’s content made by licence fee payers). This, too, is welcome news for media-literate parts of the sector, or those with clientele and staff who have the means to make decent films and blogs or use their webcams as 21st-century soapboxes.

The cuts in middle-brow or, as I prefer to call it, light, factual programming and network news are not so good for the sector. Getting your story or your organisation featured in these slots has always been harder than obtaining coverage on smaller scale local services, but they have typically brought with them a cachet, a profile and a national audience that local services can seldom compete with.

So it really is a mixed bag, with potentially more opportunities for the sector at a truly local, grass-roots level – although we’ll need to ensure that we have the skills to capitalise on them – but with national coverage becoming even harder to secure. Whether the sector will ultimately be better off as a result of these changes, only time will tell.

– Damian Radcliffe is head of broadcasting at CSV

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