Stars urge BBC to protect regional current affairs programmes

Left-right: Stephen Fry, Fern Britton and Sir Lenny Henry

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Stephen Fry, Fern Britton and Sir Lenny Henry are among those to have signed the letter

Dozens of broadcasters from Stephen Fry to Sir Lenny Henry have signed a letter asking the BBC not to cut its English regional current affairs programmes.

The BBC has cancelled the autumn series of Inside Out and merged its weekly regional political programmes.

The BBC is now “seriously under-serving regional audiences”, the letter sent by the National Union of Journalists said.

In response, the corporation said the coronavirus pandemic had “forced us to prioritise our resources”.

The letter is addressed to outgoing director general Lord Hall, who has said the BBC must find £125m savings this year, and his successor Tim Davie.

The signatories also include presenter Fern Britton, actor Dominic West, naturalist Chris Packham, writer and actress Daisy May Cooper, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, director Ken Loach and broadcaster Gloria Hunniford.

‘A vital element of public service broadcasting’

It says: “Never has in-depth investigative journalism, holding people to account and reflecting the regional diversity of England been more important.”

Inside Out is broadcast in 11 regions, covering a wide array of stories and issues affecting life in those areas. Meanwhile, the regional Sunday morning political programmes have been replaced during the pandemic by a single show.

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PA Media

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The BBC’s outgoing director-general Lord Hall has said the BBC must find £125m in savings this year

The letter continues: “If these cuts were to become permanent they risk damaging English democracy by the failure to provide an important platform for those voices in our communities who need and want to be heard.

“Even when faced with financial pressures we urge the BBC to not reduce regional programming and to defend a vital element of public service broadcasting not available anywhere else.”

‘Very real financial challenges’

A BBC spokesman said: “Local and regional broadcasting is in the BBC’s DNA and we’re especially proud of how our services have performed during recent months.

“The pandemic has forced us to prioritise our resources so we’ve cancelled the autumn series of Inside Out and are continuing with the single political programme for England through to the summer.

“The BBC does face very real financial challenges so naturally we are looking at what savings might be possible across the BBC.”

In January, Lord Hall unveiled a plan to have at least two thirds of the corporation’s staff based outside London by 2027.

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