Yesterday the Times reported that the BBC is preparing to scrap its Daily Politics show, alongside its counterpart the Sunday Politics.
The hour-long weekday programme is going to be replaced by a 45-minute show called ‘Politics Live’. Whilst it will retain the same presenters – Jo Coburn plus Andrew Neil for PMQs – it will apparently focus on “video content designed to be shared digitally”.
Meanwhile the 75-minute Sunday show, which is broadcast UK wide and presented by Sarah Smith, the BBC’s Scotland editor, will be replaced by a series of half-hour broadcasts “produced from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions”.
All of this is part of a cost-cutting drive which is seeing deep cuts to the Corporation’s Westminster coverage, which will also see BBC Parliament cease broadcasting whenever the various legislatures aren’t sitting. It is projected to save £1.9 million.
Descriptions of Politics Live, which is pitched as ‘conversational’ and aimed at a younger audience, have already led some to fear that the shift will represent a ‘dumbing down’ of the BBC’s political programming, although the retention of the original presenting team is hopefully a good omen.
However, the decision to axe these shows – and the Sunday Politics in particular – is nonetheless a lamentable decision for a fewof reasons.
First, providing in-depth political coverage is one of the things one might expect the BBC to do as part of its publicly-funded, public service mission. It might not surprise many people to learn that, say, BBC Parliament’s off-season programming isn’t terribly commercial, but the Corporation is allowed to levy the licence fee precisely to produce things that private broadcasters won’t.
Second, the shift towards ‘clips which can be shared digitally’ is a surrender to the baleful modern trend of shifting political debate into carefully curated online echo-chambers. A well-presented, hour-long broadcast at least offered the nation’s politicos the opportunity to watch the same thing, even if only once a day.
Third, and related to the above, is that a shorter overall running time and a focus on producing even smaller bits of content risks robbing viewers of some of the current programme’s interrogative depth. Save for the various Sunday shows British TV is not running over with dedicated political interview programming, and Neil is one of the best in the business. Unless the Corporation are planning to channel the savings into reviving his Straight Talk show, this will be a loss.
Finally, the replacement of the UK-wide Sunday Politics with a collection of much less substantial regional programmes is a dereliction of the BBC’s duty to help support British political debate and consciousness. At a time when pressures on the Union are seldom far from the headlines it is astonishing that the British Broadcasting Corporation is choosing to contribute to the increasing silo-isation of our political culture. Perhaps Parliament should consider including a strict requirement for UK-wide programming the next time the BBC’s Charter is up for renewal.