More BBC bigotry

What does the BBC think of Radio 4's 10m loyal listeners? Too many are white, Southern and elderly. If you want to see how bigoted that is, just replace "white" with "black"

You might assume that being declared a ‘national treasure’ and boasting 10million listeners a week means Radio 4 is doing ­everything right. Yet the station’s output is still not good enough for the BBC Trust.

In a performance review, it has ruled Radio 4 needs more northern presenters, a younger audience and to improve its appeal to ethnic minorities.

But the verdict prompted a fury yesterday from listeners, broadcasters and ­politicians, who branded the Trust’s ­findings ‘ludicrous’ and ‘patronising’.

Today presenter John Humphrys said: ‘Radio 4 is not too white, too middle class or too old. You would have to be daft not to think about how to bring in the next generation of audiences, but it should be done through quality.

‘Our listeners come to us as they mature, but also because of the content. If I am doing an interview I don’t think about how to make it appeal to a 16-year-old or a 95-year-old – I think about doing the best job.’

Today is just one of the stalwart programmes on which Radio 4 has built its reputation. Others include The Archers, From Our Own ­Correspondent and Desert Island Discs, hosted by Kirsty Young.

The BBC Trust - the corporation’s governing body - is estimated to have spent £10,000 on a consultation with 16,795 licence fee ­payers on the quality, distinctiveness and value for money of Radios 4, 3 and digital station 7, which is to be rebranded Radio 4 Extra.

The report, by BBC trustee David Liddiment, acknowledged Radio 4 sets ‘a high standard for speech radio’ and is seen by many as a ‘national treasure’ – but claimed it still needed to change.

The station should find ‘ways to build loyalty amongst younger, lighter listeners’, and needs to be promoted ‘among minority ethnic opinion formers through special content and marketing events’. It should also ‘give greater exposure to presenters from the North’.

The report suggested ‘taking Radio 4 programmes to high-profile northern events and venues, such as Gardeners’ Question Time at Harlow Carr [gardens]’.

The Trust said there had been a decline in younger listeners – the so-called replenisher audience that will become its core audience in the future. Five years ago more than 30 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 tuned in to the station, but that figure is now 26.6 per cent.

Mr Liddiment, from Yorkshire, told Today: ‘The public reaction has been phenomenal. They love the station. There are two buts. The station as a whole has a huge skew to the South-East of England, people in the North do not listen anywhere near as much. ‘The replenisher audience are not listening as much as they were.’

But his verdict prompted wide-ranging anger. Former MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Radio 4 is ­probably the only thing that caters for middle-class, middle-aged audiences. There is precious little for us on television.’

And former Today presenter Jennie Bond, 60, said: ‘What on earth is wrong with being middle class? A lot of people are middle class.’

Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘This is ludicrous. The idea that people in the North will only listen if there are presenters that sound like them is patronising.’

It is not the first time the BBC has tried to force Radio 4 to ‘broaden its appeal’. In 1994, a ‘light’ afternoon talk show with Northern Irish presenter Gerry Anderson lasted less than a year after attracting thousands of complaints.

Tim Davie, the BBC’s director of audio and music, said yesterday: ‘We welcome the Trust’s recommendation that we continue to build the appeal of Radio 3 and Radio 4 amongst potential new listeners.’


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