I’m with Matthew Wright. Are you? 

14 November 2011 tbs.pm/1285

The BBC’s Delivering Quality First initiative has certainly caused a few headlines for its treatment of local radio, however much less discussed has been its impact on the BBC’s regional TV output. However its changes there have been no less controversial.

Whilst regional news programmes have escaped relatively unharmed, their safety has come at the cost of England’s regional magazine show, Inside Out. The weekly magazine programmes are facing a 40% budget cut and a reduction from 11 regional versions to just six.

Naturally there are many who are not impressed, including presenter Matthew Wright. Whilst better known for his daytime Channel 5 show, Wright has presented Inside Out London since 2007 and has come out all guns blazing at the potential treatment of the show.

Quoted in a piece on the Guardian, he sums up the problem, quoted as saying that “the problem is that regional programming isn’t very sexy” and arguing that viewers want to watch shows about their region, not others.

But there-in the problem. Viewers increasingly can’t watch content that’s related to their area. In days gone by this was an area ITV excelled at, however consolidation and cutbacks mean you’ll see very little regional programming at all if you’re in England. The advertising revenue is, apparently, not there to make it pay.

And yet with its licence fee funded income the BBC is ideal for leaping in and providing the content. But instead it’s cutting back.

Yet at the same time the BBC is spending huge amounts of money on flagship programming for BBC One and building up offices outside London, with particular focus on its new Salford base. Moving staff and programmes out of London, the organisation seems to be crying out “Look what we’re doing for the regions! Look how less London-centric we’re becoming.”

But given how many mentions there have been of their new glittering palace, and how many special events have been hosted in the city, the BBC is simply swapping London-centric for London and Salford-centric.

It’s a dangerous game given that part of the move out of London was to help the BBC connect better with people across the country. After all, a viewer in Cornwall or Newcastle isn’t going to connect with the BBC any more just because You and Yours and Five Live will be coming from Salford Quays.

But what better way to connect better with your audience than regional programming?What better way to help cure the London (and now Salford) centric appearance than by investing in content created for people living in a certain area?

Instead the BBC gives the appearance of thinking that regional output isn’t important. That our regional variations are an expensive waste of money that could be pumped into paying an inflated salary for the latest Saturday night TV presenter. Even the decision to pretty much ring fence Radio 4 from the cuts is like someone putting a knife in regional TV’s back and turning it very slowly. Radio 4 has a (often deserved) reputation as a station that serves a minority, and southern biased, middle-class centric one at that. And I write that as a fan of the station.

Instead of cutting back on its regional content, the BBC should be creating far more of it. If BBC Scotland can have its own sitcoms, why shouldn’t BBC Midlands? If BBC Wales can do Welsh Assembly coverage, why shouldn’t viewers in London be able to get some of their own regional government? And given all the great music that comes out of the area, why not a live music show for the North West to celebrate local bands?

The BBC has the facilities and the talent to do great regional programming which would be watched and would help it connect better with its viewers. It’s about time the BBC’s English regions got the support and attention of their colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Matthew Wright’s stance needs to be supported; regional television celebrated. And I for one will firmly nail my colours to his mast.

Thankfully you too can have your say and if you haven’t done so already, you can take part in the BBC Trust’s public consultation on Delivering Quality First on the BBC Trust website.

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