If you’re going to cover stories about London on TV and radio, you need to justify properly why you’re covering it

Published on 3 August 2010 in , , , , , ,

If there’s one thing that seems to provoke irie from the BBC’s viewers and listeners, it’s doing anything about London on air. Well unless said viewer and listener is in London. Probably.

When I heard about BBC Radio 4’s London season, I naturally raised my eyebrows and thought, “Hmm, they’re asking for trouble there.” Whilst I’ve been on holiday, the topic was tackled on Feedback.

The trouble is, if you listen to the complaints you’d never do anything about London on air, ever. Yet it is the capital city of these isles and it is an interesting and diverse place. About 20% of the population live here. It deserves some recognition on our airwaves. And there are stories that should be interesting to people outside the capital, because frankly whilst people think London is covered a huge amount by the media, most of the coverage consists of stabbings, film premières and politics. And frankly London is just a bit more than that.

When BBC Four did its London Bus night to celebrate the demise of the Routemaster bus in the capital, I would have watched whether I was in Wimbledon or Westmoorland. It was, after all, the only place in the UK where fifty-odd year old open doored buses regularly plied for trade. That’s something special and I don’t care who disagrees with me.

Similarly when they did a London Underground night, I thought “Brilliant!” and watched every bit. After all, here’s a railway system that runs just in one small part of the country, and yet carries almost as many people every year as use the National Rail network. There’s some stories to be told there, I thought, and there were. If we can have Michael Portillo travelling around the north of England and Cornwall on diesel trains, we can have programmes about the tube.

And whilst some may moan about “every time there’s a tube strike, it’s always on the national news”, when there’s an all out strike that brings the capital to its knees and prevents about 3m people from travelling, hey isn’t that a story? Why yes, it is my friend, it is. (Anyone outside London may be interested to know that most tube strikes aren’t covered by the national news – only the all out ones which shut almost every line.)

Of course what broadcasters need to do is ensure they validate to the listener or viewer why they have focused a story or programme on London – and (I’m afraid) they almost have to validate it doubly more than any other story.

This was firmly in my mind this morning when Radio 4’s Today programme did a piece about the porters at Billingsgate market facing terms and conditions changes.

Even as a person who has lived in London for nearly 11 years, I couldn’t quite tell why someone had thought this was newsworthy for a national audience. I mean, I know it’s the largest inland fish market in the UK, and I know it’s been around in one form or other for centuries. But I didn’t have a clue what made the porters special and why I should care about what they compared to say any other porter in a market in the UK. Or indeed any other job. Maybe there’s some fascinating reason why it should have been covered, but it didn’t come across and I just ended up feeling that if it was going to be covered, it should have been on BBC London instead.

I do think it’s sad that some people (not everyone, but some) want to shut out as irrelevant anything that happens in our capital because they perceive of a London-bias in the media. However sometimes those compiling programmes really don’t help the cause, and they really do need to make sure they justify some decisions even more so to themselves and the audience if we’re ever to attack the belief that the media is overly obsessed with our capital.