The BBC is one of our great British institutions; even affectionately referred to as ‘Auntie Beeb’. That’s one of the reasons why current criticism of the service can seem a little uncomfortable – after all, who likes to turn on a favourite Aunt? However, when it comes to rural services, I believe we are in danger of being short-changed by ‘Auntie’.
I was shocked to learn that the BBC plans not only to cut airtime of BBC Radio Solent’s Dorset Breakfast Show (of which I have always been a huge supporter) but also to end the text-based Red Button service. I believe the continual shift of investment in on-demand and streaming services, reliant on fast internet and abandoning more traditional methods of broadcast, is unacceptable. Not least because poor broadband speeds in rural areas often makes these services totally inaccessible, further isolating our communities.
I have raised this matter with Lord Hall, Director-General of the BBC, asking him to urgently review and reconsider these decisions; I am also meeting with the BBC’s Head of Region to discuss its plans for more local radio content in Dorset. I welcome Lord Hall’s response, in his letter to me, confirming that plans to cease the Red Button service have been suspended, following my intervention. The BBC is now taking time to consider more fully the true impact of this, especially for our more vulnerable residents in West Dorset – and in particular the elderly and those less able to use the internet.
If the BBC continues as it is, then my thinking is that its licence fee should be ‘means tested’ in more ways than one, with an allowance made for regional ability to download or stream services. I’m pleased that the BBC is being properly challenged and scrutinised and I’m keen to know what you think. That’s why I’m inviting you to share your views on local broadcasting by completing my short survey.