Senior councillors have slammed the BBC’s plans for cut backs to journalism in Devon and have called for an urgent review to be carried out by the Director General
Devon County Council’s cabinet on Wednesday were united in their view that proposed cuts and centralisation of news gathering would further diminish the ability of communities to benefit from high quality, independently gathered news.
They, as well as the four group leaders on the council, agreed that a letter should be sent urgently to Director General of the BBC setting out their concerns and calling for a review of the planned cuts affecting Devon and Cornwall.
And they added that they were also worried about potential for job losses across local newspapers and news websites in the region that would lead to an ‘inferior product’ and be ‘bad for democracy’.
The broadcaster last week announced it was making “significant changes to the BBC’s local and regional services in England” which will result in around 15 per cent of its workforce being cut.
A spokesperson for the BBC confirmed this meant Spotlight will now have just one presenter rather than two – and that job losses would occur, but it was hoped some employees would take voluntary redundancies, while others could be relocated to new roles locally, or further afield.
The spokesperson said it is not yet known how many jobs in Plymouth, elsewhere in Devon, or Cornwall will be lost – but the BBC has said there will 450 job losses across the English regions – while the investigative journalism hub in Plymouth will close, with production of Inside Out moving to Bristol.
The news was followed by Reach PLC announcing on Tuesday that 550 jobs would be cut nationally – 325 of them in editorial – as a result of the effects of falling sales and advertising during the coronavirus pandemic.
Revenue for the second quarter was down 27.5 per cent compared with the corresponding period last year, with print revenue down 29.5 per cent and digital revenue down 14.8 per cent, Reach confirmed.
Archant, which has titles in East Devon, North Devon and Torbay, it is being reported has put itself up for sale and has appointed corporate financiers to find new backers due to the impact of COVID-19 on advertising revenues.
Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, had put forward the motion ahead of a full council meeting later this month, but Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, agreed to take it as an urgent item at the start of Wednesday’s cabinet meeting and said he was in full support of the recommendations.
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Cllr Connett’s motion said: “Devon County Council values local journalism and reporting as a key method to keep residents and communities informed, and the council is greatly concerned by news of the BBC’s plans for cut backs in Devon, especially in the investigative reporting unit which is to be centred at Bristol.
“The BBC across Devon and Cornwall is a valued and trusted news outlet relied on by residents and organisations and centralisation of news gathering and cuts to reporting standards here in Devon and Cornwall will further diminish the ability of our communities to benefit from high quality, independently gathered news, at a time when many local newspapers and news websites are also under strain.
“The council agrees that a letter signed by the Group Leaders should be sent urgently to Director General of the BBC setting out these concerns and calling for a review of the planned cuts affecting Devon and Cornwall.”
He added: “We should be concerned about the planned cuts in Plymouth to Spotlight and to the investigative reporting units. It would lead to an inferior news product across the region, so I am calling for a letter to the director general of the BBC calling for an urgent review and calling for the services not to be cut.”
Cllr Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labour group, said that agreed with the sentiment and said it was vital the BBC was not forced to make the cuts. He said: “Lots of people watch the local news to stay in touch, to hold us to account, and to allow us to give our views to the community. If we get the cuts, it will be bad for democracy and for local newspapers, so am very happy to support and to fight the cuts.”
While not currently affected by the planned cuts, Cllr Hannaford also said he was concerned about what this could mean for the Local Democracy Reporting Service, whereby journalists are funded by the BBC, but employed by regional news organisations and copy is sent out by them to all participating partners in the scheme. The Devon LDR was the only journalist on the Microsoft Teams call.
He said: “The discussions we are having today will be sent out across Devon to all the newspapers to the wider Devon public. If we get these cuts, it will be bad for democracy and for local newspapers.”
Cllr Frank Biederman, leader of the Independent group, added: “My friends on the left and the right always complain how biased the BBC is, so that suggests they have got it right. And as it feeds into the local newspapers, it is so vital to protect it.”
Cllr Stuart Hughes added: “We have seen the important part that the BBC has played during Covid-19, so making these cuts seems very strange indeed.”
The cabinet unanimously agreed to send a letter to the Director General of the BBC setting out their concerns and calling for a review of the planned cuts affecting Devon and Cornwall.