Parliamentary Rugby League Group Challenges Cuts to BBC Local Radio
The Parliamentary Rugby League Group has today called for an historic meeting of all sports Groups within Parliament to challenge the way the BBC have approached cuts to local radio services.
The scale of the issue and the approach of the BBC were made apparent during a meeting of the Rugby League Group on Tuesday 29th November where the impact of the proposed cuts to local sports services was made clear.
The Group heard that the confluence of consultations from the BBC Trust and the BBC, as well as the need for the BBC to make cuts to services whilst absorbing the cost of the World Service brought together what was described by MPs as a “perfect storm” which could “destroy” local sports coverage in some areas:
· On weekday afternoons, stations would share programming with neighbours;
· On weekday evenings between 7pm and 10pm, programming would be shared across all England stations, with the exception of any live commentaries. This means an end to any sports magazine shows;
· At other off-peak periods, programme sharing would occur at a variety of levels. Some would be akin to the regional television areas, and during the late evening in five larger areas: the North; the West Midlands; the East Midlands; the East and South East; and the West and South West;
· All stations would broadcast Radio 5 Live from 1am until the start of their breakfast programme;
· A number of locally-split breakfast programmes would end;
· Sports coverage in London would be reduced by 95%; and
· Medium Wave transmission for BBC services would end in areas of England where coverage duplicates FM with high costs to provide alternative coverage using the MW band.
Leeds North West MP and Rugby League Group Chair Greg Mulholland said “Rugby League relies on local radio more than some other sports and could be particularly badly affected. This Group has taken an interest in the issues since the consultation was announced, but now we have a better understanding of the impact of the proposals, we are very worried about the impact on reporting of the sport.”
“The Group are working hard with the RFL to ensure the true impact of the cuts is understood, and they are preparing their response and a call to action for fans of the sport. I would urge all supporters of rugby league to look at the RFL’s response and encourage all to use their work to respond to the consultation and contact their local MP.”
Group Member St Helens North MP Dave Watts said at the meeting “Whilst everyone understands that cuts clearly have to be made, the timing and approach from the BBC and the Trust has resulted in what is a confusing and arguably misleading approach which leaves people unsure as to the consequences of the proposed cuts.”
Mulholland outlined the steps the Group is taking. “We had already decided to respond to the consultations, but given the serious concerns, we are now also writing to Mark Thomson at the BBC and Chris Patten at the BBC Trust to explain how we find the BBC’s approach unacceptable and that to consult on the proposals without giving clear details of how they will impact on the service is not a real consultation.”
Mulholland went on to say that in the letter he will make clear the Group’s issues with the BBC’s approach:
· Without a clear written statement on the impact on rugby league (and other sports) people cannot possibly respond to the consultation.
· There is confusion over the consultations and which is best to respond to.
· Language is couched in such a way as to be confusing and to disguise impact. For example, all sports coverage lost between 7pm and 10pm on weekdays in the proposals made and there whilst there are facilities for local BBC stations to cover more than one live game, the cost to do so is hugely prohibitive.
· Timing of cuts to BBC services and requirement to absorb the World Service costs from the FCO has come at the same time as a regular consultation on BBC Local Radio from the BBC Trust.
· As part of its remit, the BBC must provide coverage suited to local communities, what better way than through its sports coverage.
To see the RFL’s position and draft answers to the response, visit www.therfl.co.uk/localradioreview.
Click here to download a picture of the panel taking part or visit the meetings section of the Group website.