TL;DR version: The BBC’s reasoning is still ridiculous. Please email:
to ask them why they’re taking the Naked Scientists off the air in the Eastern Counties, and why they can’t find room in the new BBC England schedule to make it a national local radio programme. This is especially important if you live in the Eastern region. You can also email your MP.
Last week Professor Stephen Curry wrote eloquently on the Guardian’s Science Blogs about the BBC axing the Naked Scientists from its local output in the Eastern Counties. He also very kindly wrote to Mick Rawsthorne, the controller for the BBC Eastern region, to complain about the decision. Here’s the reply he got:
“Dear Professor Curry,
There has been a lot of feedback and we have taken that into account when considering our decisions on the future of science coverage on Radio Cambridgeshire. I hope you will be pleased to hear that we want to retain Naked Scientists, albeit with a tighter remit, in the schedules.
As background although the original decision to review the programme was not because of the current round of budget cuts required by the licence fee settlement, it was driven by the context of limited resources and our need to prioritise those resources and airtime on our core purpose to serve local audiences with output that has a local focus.
Although admirable Naked Scientists has had a different brief, that made it in reality a national programme serving a national and indeed an international audience. To retain a programme like Naked Scientists on local radio the editorial focus had to change.
We’ve developed two new proposals. First, we intend to invest in improved local science coverage for the mainstream audience on the radio station. We are of course conscious that science is an important part of the economic and academic story around Cambridge, a point that many correspondents have made in the debate about Naked Scientists.
The station will use a science specialist advising the editorial team on the most important local science stories and how best to cover them. This expert will be a regular on air contributor on the station’s biggest shows. Our two most popular programmes will also work to specific targets in terms of science items. I hope this will all translate into better and more distinctive coverage for the local audience.
Secondly with this extra expertise, we believe it is possible to continue broadcasting a programme like Naked Scientists, while adjusting the brief to give science stories from Cambridgeshire and local connections a higher profile in the running order. Exact details about when it will be broadcast have still to be finalised, because of other unavoidable schedule changes planned on Sundays across the local radio network. We will need to talk further to the current programme team before finalising plans.
I appreciate you writing to us and your comments. We have taken all the different views into account when revising our decisions on the future of science coverage on Radio Cambridgeshire. I hope you will also regard this note as evidence of how much importance we place on coverage of science in all parts of the BBC.“
Well, this is interesting. Rawsthorne says they want scientific experts who will help their editorial teams get more science into other shows in the schedule. But they already have that – they’re called the Naked Scientists. The majority of local radio journalists in the region come to Ben and Chris for advice on science stories, and Chris guests on other shows (such as Sue Marchant’s – also being axed) to bring science content into other shows.
We’re also intrigued by the concept of “science targets” – I would love to know what they are, exactly how much science we can expect to be covered on local radio, and in what kind of depth? Churning out the latest crappy press release on goji berries and cancer, I expect. And what happens if these as-yet-undefined targets aren’t met? Nothing, I’d bet.
Rawsthorne also alludes to a new version of the Naked Scientists that could still be broadcast. From my discussions with the Naked Scientists team I believe that this would be a half hour show at an unknown time in the Sunday schedule, restricted solely to covering Cambridge scientists and broadcast only on Radio Cambridgeshire – a reduction from 8 counties to just 1.
There are a couple of flaws in this cunning plan. For a start, Cambridge isn’t the only science centre in the Eastern region. Norwich is a major University town boasting UEA, the Institute of Food Research, the John Innes Research Centre, and a medical school at the main hospital. Do they not deserve some local science coverage too?
And the idea that only local science is local enough for local people is frankly ridiculous – do trees in Suffolk not have chlorophyll? Do the good citizens of Norwich not get cancer? Do satellites give Ipswich the swerve when they go over? No. And to suggest that local radio listeners somehow don’t merit one single hour of specialist science coverage in an entire week’s output (168 hours – that’s a hell of a lot of Take That and traffic news) is as patronising as it is offensive.
Furthermore in a further email to Professor Curry, Rawsthorne clarified that “The current proposal does only apply to Cambridgeshire with its special association with science. Of course the programme would be available on the BBC I-player and therefore anyone in the East or indeed across the country will be able to listen to it.”
So let’s get this straight: local people in Cambridge are only entitled to hear dedicated programming about science that’s local to them, but anyone anywhere else in the region or the country who might want to find out about it can listen again on iPlayer. Errr, excuse me Mr Rawsthorne, I thought you said that local people would only be interested in a show dedicated to local science, but now you’re saying that people all over the region or the country would want to listen to it too. But what about listeners in Norwich, or Ipswich, or Manchester, or anywhere else – why would they want to hear only about Cambridge science? And why do you think your own local listeners don’t want to hear a dedicated show about local, national and international science? I smell a logical flaw.
Furthermore, at a time of belt-tightening at the BBC, producing more content to fill the gap left by the Naked Scientists is going to cost MORE, not less. Each show costs the BBC £40 – George Entwhistle’s recent payoff would pay for 11,000 shows! – it’s implausible that paying for new content on the seven other stations to fill the void left by our show would cost as little. Unless, of course, they’re just going to fill it with recycled rubbish and yet more generic music programming or national content from the yet-to-be-launched BBC England (part of the laughably-named “Delivering Quality First” strategy). Where’s your oh-so-precious commitment to “local radio for local people” now?
So – what can you do to help save the Naked Scientists? Please email:
to ask them why they’re taking the Naked Scientists off the air in the Eastern Counties, and why they can’t find room in the new BBC England schedule to make it a national local radio programme. This is especially important if you live in the Eastern Counties.
It would also help a lot if you emailed your MP if you live in the Eastern region – we already have the support of Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, but I’m sure he just loves getting emails :)