Moving parts of the BBC out of London to the outskirts of Manchester will still leave many regions ‘out in the wilderness’, producers have warned.
Independent TV companies, regional media groups and freelance broadcasters last night told the BBC’s newly appointed director for the north of their concern about the move to Salford in 2011.
Journalists working for BBC Sport and Radio FiveLive are among the 1,630 staff due to move into the new purpose-built MediaCity complex, currently under construction.
The move away from the capital has been described by BBC North director Peter Salmon as a key part of the corporation’s attempt to reflect audiences across the UK.
But a number of delegates at the Television from the Nations and Regions Conference, which began in Salford last night, said there was a risk the BBC would become Salford-centric instead of London-centric.
Sandra Jobling, an executive producer and co-founder of Newcastle-based TV indie Coastal Productions, said: “The North feels like it stops at Manchester for us.
“It just feels that [the North East is] sort of getting left out in the wilderness again.”
Gareth Williams, a TV location manager based in Newcastle, agreed that putting Greater Manchester at the heart of the BBC’s ambitions could make viewers further north feel isolated.
“At the minute it strikes me we’re moving away from a London-centric organisation to a bi-centric organisation and it’s even worse news for us in the North East, in the frozen north,” he said.
Hugo Heppell, the head of production for regional broadcasting campaign group Screen Yorkshire, added that that there was a risk that key broadcasting and journalistic talent would leave the regions and be drawn to Salford to find work.
“Isn’t there a risk actually of it becoming a magnet or a black hole as far as the rest of the North is concerned?” he asked.
‘Salford is not a fortress’
Salmon defended the BBC’s decision to choose one region as the focal point for its investment.
“I sometimes think one of the problems about doing something in Manchester is you make Liverpool miserable,” he said.
“If you do something in Sheffield you make Leeds miserable. If you do something in Newcastle it makes Sunderland miserable.”
Salmon added: “The great challenge and the great conundrum is how to make that work for all of us.
“We’ve got to start somewhere, we’ve got to put the hook down somewhere.
“I wouldn’t want the place to become a kind of island site. It’s not a fortress.”
Salmon said it was important that other media groups in the North West – an area served by ITV and the Guardian Media Group – joined the BBC on the new complex in Salford.
“I think we’ve got to the point that if ever there was a time for us to strike up some mutually supportive partnerships it’s now,” he said.
“There’s nothing I’d love more than to do this thing alongside Granada. Bring Granada on side, bring Channel 4, get some of the indies on here. That’s what we want.”
This weekend, the Press Association published the results of a Freedom of Information request detailing the relocation benefits available to BBC employees choosing to move from London to Salford.
But the move has been questioned by freelance journalists, who are not eligible to the same benefits.
Speaking from the audience in a question-and-answer session last night, freelance Rachel Morgan asked Salmon: “What about those freelancers who depend on the departments like Sport and FiveLive, based in London, who aren’t given the support the BBC staff are for moving north. What do we do about that?”
Salmon said the corporation would offer “a lot of new opportunities” and new jobs in Salford, but stressed that its priority was moving employees to the region.
“We are moving – we’ve taken the decision, politically, editorially and economically. We’re not going to reverse that,” he said.
“This is about changing the face and the nature of the BBC.
“The easiest thing for the BBC to do is be conservative and to continue doing more or less what it’s always done and at some point risk extinction. The BBC has got to change.”