Neil Parish is the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton and last Monday he organised a debate under the heading of BBC Regional Politics Coverage. It was very clear from his comments and those of a number of other MPs who participated that despite the refusal of nearly every Minister since the General Election to participate in interviews on TV programmes that in fact this was a mistake. In addition as well as focusing on the importance of MPs and Ministers to make themselves accountable on Broadcast Media, that the value of regional opportunities needs to be extended if MPs are to remain credible. So this fits in very well to my suggestion a few weeks ago when Parliament was closed down for most MPs that those in Sussex should use the opportunity to appear regularly on Zoom or some other video conferencing system to explain to the residents of the whole of Sussex what is going from their point of views. The challenge is that while there is a Sussex and a Surrey Radio system that as one of the MPs suggested, the regional BBC and ITV systems cover a much bigger area than Sussex and Surrey and the challenge is to enable local people to understand who they will be able to see on the screens. While the regional radios are much clearer. This is why the use of Zoom would enable local MPs to work together as they claim to do behind closed doors in Parliament every so often. Indeed so many of the public sector and charitable agencies cover the whole of Sussex or significant parts of it, that a Sussex wide approach would make a great deal of sense.
So Parish started the debate of with the following few words:
During covid-19, valued programmes such as “Inside Out” and the regional “Sunday Politics” shows have had to be taken off air, with no return date as such at the moment, although I just learnt today that ITV’s programmes are returning by September. BBC executives have said that the cuts are to do with safety, but a review of English programming is taking place, which is looking to save costs. Many regional journalists fear that they will be cut and never return to work on those vital programmes. If that were the case, that would be a great loss to all of us and our constituents. The “Sunday Politics” show covers 11 regions of England, from the south-west to the north-east and Cumbria. Those shows are a crucial part of our local and national democracy, holding us all to account throughout the year. All our regions have their identities. This is essential. With the Government looking towards more regional representation, such a step by the BBC would be a retrograde one.
The fact that there is to be more regional representation clearly means that Sussex would be the ideal regional focus for most people who live and work in our area. Indeed this was implied in a later comment by Parish:
Having, at one time, as an MEP, represented the whole of the south-west, I can assure Members that it is a massive region. We could probably do with a regions cut up, rather than cutting the regions—I hope that makes sense.
And then this comment which means that MPs need to actually do a much more effective job of engaging with newspapers and news online facilities as well as the radio and TV
That is why, especially with regional newspapers now getting less and less all the time—they are cutting their numbers, the number of journalists and offices—we need the BBC programmes to really focus on our local issues, so that not only we, as politicians, but constituents and business can also be represented in the media.
So the challenge then is for MPs across Sussex as well as in other areas to begin to work together along with Government Ministers to become more accessible through national programmes. The final person to speak in the debate was John Whittingdale who said as one of his last comments:
People also want to know that they are heard, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds and in diverse communities across the UK. They need to know that the issues that matter to them matter to us all, and they need the opportunity to engage in balanced debates and participate in the conversations that shape their daily lives.