Local radio at sharp end of public anger

Alan Yentob Alan Yentob: More managers likely to go

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The editor of Three Counties Radio has spoken of local radio's 'most torrid time', following the revelations of BBC failings over Jimmy Savile and executive pay-offs.

Speaking from the floor during a Radio Festival debate on Trust in the BBC, Laura Moss said local radio staff had seen the public's anger at close quarters due to their 'real whites of the eyes' relationship with the audience.

She said that one of her reporters, who had gone to a local school to do an interview, had been spat at by a parent when she revealed where she worked.

'The accusation was that the BBC harboured people like [Jimmy] Savile,' explained Moss.

Alan Yentob, the BBC's creative director who was on the panel for the Richard Bacon-hosted session, agreed that it had been 'a very depressing' year, adding that it was 'deeply embarrassing' when ITV's programme about Savile was broadcast after Newsnight had dropped a similar investigation.

Owning up

He doubted that anyone at the BBC was complicit in Savile's crimes, though, and pointed out that the BBC owned up to its failings.

'George [Entwistle] was slow [to own up], and to that extent he fell on his sword,' he said, adding: 'When the BBC makes mistakes we do need to learn from them… but we do open it up to debate across the BBC.'

The event, which took place in The Lowry in Salford and was broadcast live on 5 live, invited comments from the audience in the theatre and at home who spoke, in particular, about their fury over the executive pay-off scandal, where managers left the Corporation with more than their contractual entitlement.

'Those pay-offs were wrong,' admitted Yentob, who put them in the context, however, of finding a quick fix to a bloated management.

He agreed that BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten and former DG Mark Thompson's public spat over who knew what about the pay-offs was a little 'unseemly', but also felt that Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, had 'made a meal' of the issue.

'The BBC should have had these arguments privately,' he believed.

He thought that more BBC managers would lose their jobs, but also questioned whether deputy director general Mark Byford's high profile departure was the right course of action.

'Do I think things might have gone differently [if Byford's post had been kept]? Yes, I do actually.'

Left-wing bias

Fellow panellist Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of the Sun, made the distinction - echoed by members of the audience - between the BBC that makes programmes and the management which, he said, was 'out of control, overpaid and over-subsidised'.

'It's top heavy, it's bureaucratic… it's institutionally left wing,' he added for good measure, saying that BBC broadcasters were swayed by the Guardian.

Yentob refuted his claims, and pointed out that most of those in management 'have made programmes, are making programmes'.

And Kate Squire, Radio Manchester editor, dismissed Kavanagh's accusations of left-wing bias as 'complete rubbish'. She said she'd worked at the BBC for a quarter of a century and that 'the level we go to to be impartial and balanced in what we do is incredible'.

Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine also joined the debate. 'We're constantly accused of being on the opposite side to the person who's calling in,' he reflected. 'The BBC is a complex ecology… and that's got to be healthy.'

BBC local radio took a knock from panellist Belinda Allen, Celador Radio's managing director for the Thames Valley Region, who considered it 'still massively overstaffed', while Kavanagh reckoned the BBC should 'think twice' about doing local radio at all.

But the audience came to the defence of the service, arguing that the commercial competition was 'colourless' and the same nationwide, while BBC local radio responded to local needs.

Laura Moss insisted she 'couldn't get rid of anyone' in her team.

'We have lost programmes… specialist music programmes,' she said. 'All our effort is around local journalism.'

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