Mike Lewis, editor of ITV’s current affairs programme Tonight and a former BBC producer, said that that the regional journalists and producers had widened the BBC’s coverage beyond London.
Speaking at yesterday’s Voice of the Listener and Viewer Spring Conference in London, Lewis said that current affairs in the regions would be less well-served in the future, blaming the BBC ‘more or less’shutting down its regional unit in Manchester.
‘It’s a great shame and detrimental to the BBC that it has reduced its regional current affairs on Panorama,’he said.
‘The people working in current affairs working outside the capital just have a broader mix of relationships outside broadcasting, aren’t so tied up in listening to Today, reading the Guardian and have friends in Westminster [which] produces a particular mindset.”
The BBC axed Manchester produced The Real Story in 2006 a week after Lewis deflected from his role as series producer and moved back to ITV and Tonight with Trevor McDonald.
Clive Edwards, executive editor and commissioning editor for BBC Television said that resources had not been reduced but reallocated.
He said: ‘Although it’s true that Manchester does not quite have the resources it once had, those resources have gone to Belfast as part of the BBC’s commitment to the regions and nations. Rather than us telling them what to do they have appointed their own chief executive who will guide a whole new current affairs operation, a rather big current affairs operation. So BBC remains committed to out of London production.”
He said the current affairs as a genre did have a future and was even more relevant in a broadband/digital age where the ability to stand back and take stock would become more valued.
Lewis agreed that the strongest indication that current affairs programming could survive was the current Monday night television schedule that included BBC’s Panorama, Tonight on ITV and Dispatches on Channel 4.
But he admitted it was difficult to plan for the long-term future of current affairs programming at ITV.
‘It is very difficult for us at Tonight and Dispatches when we don’t know what the future model of funding will be. I have to concentrate on the short term.”
Dispatches editor Kevin Sutcliffe agreed that it was ‘a good time’for current affairs but reiterated his argument that the BBC’s decision to put Panorama in a Monday night slot against Dispatches ‘reduced choice”.
The editor of BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, Ceri Thomas, said that traditional current affairs programming was feeling pressure from Today, Newsnight and Channel 4 News with their own investigations.
‘We have made life more difficult for documentary film makers but we need to trust documentary makers to go deeper than we can,’Thomas said.