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Government / Local politics

Why is Auntie anti-Liverpool? The case for renaming BBC Merseyside

On 7 January, Carrie Gracie resigned her post as the BBC’s China editor. In a letter to the licence fee payers, she set out her grievances with the BBC, and reminded us that the BBC belongs to us.

She also argued that there is a “bunker mentality” and “a crisis of trust” at the corporation. The event was a reminder of how deeply flawed that public sector has often been (the Savile scandal, for example). This event was immediately, and very loudly, broadcast across all types of media. 

A while ago I had to pay £147 to renew my TV licence, and it made me realise just how little I now use the BBC, mainly because of Freeview and the internet. There are, for example, some quite good channels on Youtube and free catch-up apps like ITV Hub, All 4, My5 and the like. 

Given all this choice, far more than I would ever want to watch, I have decided that I don’t really need or want paid access to the BBC. But there’s the rub: the state forces me, on threat of a large fine or even, ultimately, imprisonment, to fund the BBC – even if I only want to watch or record television programmes as they are being broadcast in real time on channels other than the BBC.

You see, the BBC doesn’t really offer me anything that I cannot get elsewhere for free. And the BBC North West regional output, transmitted from Greater Manchester, is of a relatively low standard and is often quite snidey about Liverpool City Region – something I find alienating to the point where I have had to stop watching it. We don’t even get a local scenic picture in the background, such as the one at the top of this page, when, for example, Daily Politics interviews someone remotely in the BBC studio in Liverpool. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for a public service broadcaster – just not such a gargantuan, dominant and arrogant one. A smaller, more tightly defined “very much public sector” BBC, to quote Jeremy Corbyn, free at the point of access, would be more appropriate in this day and age.

This set me thinking about what other benefits the BBC may bring, beyond just my own personal desires. So I decided to consider the benefits that the BBC could bring to the Liverpool City Region or, more relevantly, Greater Liverpool (as described in April 2017).


I decided to try to take an objective route by using Office of National Statistics. These numbers were sourced directly from the ONS, and show that there are about 1.2m households in Greater Liverpool. To make the sums easy, let’s assume that Greater Liverpool has about one million TV licence fee payers. That’s about £150m a year that the area contributes to the BBC coffers.

So, what does only Greater Liverpool get for our £150 million, that’s not available to everyone else in the country? Answer: the badly named BBC Radio Merseyside, a local radio station with a handful of staff – certainly not £150m.

It appears to me, therefore, that Greater Liverpool is subsidising BBC jobs in London and elsewhere rather than in Greater Liverpool. Surely there is something fundamentally wrong, when we are subsidising large numbers of expensive middle class jobs in booming London, in ludicrously expensive buildings? Surely, given that the BBC is the publicly funded State broadcaster and “very much public sector”, it should be the other way around? The corporation would also get much lower cost and better value premises to operate from in Greater Liverpool, for example.

So, last July, I decided to send an email to the BBC’s Managing Editor of BBC Radio Merseyside, Sue Owen, to see if I could get any additional local value out of them:

“Ms Owen,

“I am contacting you in your capacity as Managing Editor at BBC Radio Merseyside….  The BBC local radio stations listed here are all named after their host cities: BBC Radio Bristol; Nottingham; Leeds; Sheffield; Manchester; Newcastle; London; Derby; Leicester; Oxford; Stoke; York… 

“You should also understand that the word ‘Merseyside’ is now out of date due to the new official and formal administrative, political, economic and geographical entity of ‘Liverpool City Region’. It is also worth noting that some of the places within Radio Merseyside’s catchment area, such as North Wales, Chester and Ormskirk are not in Merseyside or even on or near the banks of the River Mersey. 

“It is therefore surely time to make a name change to BBC Radio Liverpool from BBC Radio Merseyside to reflect the existing reality, and for the BBC to be seen as keeping up with the current and future version of the world. (…) Liverpool is already well recognised internationally. The word ‘Merseyside’ is now out of date and is not recognised or understood internationally.

“If the BBC’s central principle is supposedly impartiality then all local BBC radio stations should be named based on the same guidelines. In recent times both of the local radio stations serving London and Greater Manchester have been re-branded [as BBC London and BBC Manchester respectively].

“John Ryan, the managing editor of BBC Radio Manchester, stated that the reason for the relaunch was that Manchester was the more recognised brand within that region. He also went on to say that the Manchester change was: “in keeping with most other BBC local radio stations”; that it: “didn’t alter the quality or reach of the service”; and that he: “simply wanted to serve the whole of the Manchester area better.”

“Why don’t you follow the lead of your equivalent, John Ryan, and do the same for Liverpool as he did for Manchester? A name change would reflect the existing reality better and help us to further develop a coherent identity for the wider metropolitan area.

“Regards

“          Dave”

I sent four emails in total and received four replies, for which I am grateful.

But I was not satisfied that my questions had been properly answered: I was basically told that they like the name and are not going to change it. I therefore sent follow up emails, wherein I actually begged for my questions to be answered fully, to no avail, apart from the merest glimmer of hope – when Owen acknowledged that she has the power to change the name if she wants to and that she will consider it if she gets enough emails and letters requesting it. 

So, there you have it, if you want BBC Radio Merseyside to be renamed to the much better BBC Radio Liverpool, please them and request it. To quote Gracie: “enough is enough” and “the BBC must admit the problem”.

One last thing. The Esther McVey promotion to Cabinet Minister, on 8 January, was predicted in CityMetric immediately after the general election last June. I wonder what other predictions I’ve made that might yet come true.

Dave Mail is CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.
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