It’s time to break up Britain’s London-centric media

Media City, Salford, Greater Manchester. Image: Getty.

To say that people living around the UK think there is something of a London-centric bias in the British media would be an understatement. Although the capital represents 13 per cent of the UK population, all of the country’s national English-language newspapers and broadcasters are based there – a level of concentration that is hard to justify on either economic or cultural grounds. The Conversation

The most obvious solution is to relocate a greater proportion of UK-wide media outside the capital. Following the BBC’s decision to relocate some of its operations to Media City in Salford, it might soon be Channel 4’s turn to venture out of the capital. The government will soon launch a consultation on the channel’s future which – inter alia – will explore whether some or all of its operations should be based outside London.

Think outside the M25

The lack of regional diversity in the UK media was acknowledged by the 2003 Communications Act, which required that a proportion of programmes by the UK’s main broadcasters (excluding Sky) be made outside the M25 (a 117-mile motorway which runs in a ring around Greater London). But the ambitions here were modest – so, for example, BBC channels were asked to produce 25 per cent of their programming hours and 30 per cent of their spending outside London. For Channel 4 and Five, those figures were 30 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

But the Act still assumed the great majority of programming would be made in London – and, according to PACT, the body that represents the UK’s 500 independent media companies, this remains true. Around three-fifths of the UK’s independent media producers are based in London – four times the number in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.

The BBC’s move to Salford was designed to address this. The move inevitably met with some resistance – London metropolitanism among parts of the creative establishment runs deep. Reports that the Guardian is considering a return to its Manchester roots have also been greeted with scepticism, even within the paper’s own ranks – former editor, Peter Preston concluding that as far as the UK media goes, London is “where it’s at”.

Radio Five Live at Media City, Salford. Image: James Cridland/creative commons.

There are, of course, moments when this is true. But for most people, most of the time, London is not where it’s at. The BBC’s move of some of its operation to a northern hub recognises this. But even this is only a modest move on the road towards regional diversity.

Forever England?

The case to move more media out of London is compelling, and Channel 4 – with its reputation for freshness and originality – is an obvious candidate. An early frontrunner for host city is Birmingham, which has already offered the broadcaster a prime city centre location (although Karen Bradley – the minister for Culture, Media and Sport – represents nearby Staffordshire, a potential conflict of interest that might give rise to accusations of pork-barrel politics).


Hot on Birmingham’s heels is Manchester. Andy Burnham, Labour’s mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester, is busily making the case, arguing that the media infrastructure in Salford’s Media City makes “Greater Manchester the only viable alternative outside of London”. The other city being talked about is Leeds, currently considered more of a long shot.

And all of this raises the question – why should we always assume that a UK broadcaster has to be based in England? The cultural bias of our broadcasters is not only London-centric, but England-centric.

Cardiff University has conducted four reviews for the BBC Trust looking at the UK broadcasters’ coverage of UK politics. Despite the fact that a great deal of power and responsibility has now been devolved to the four nations, political coverage continues to be largely Westminster-based. Most stories about topics of devolved responsibility – in areas such as health and education – tend to ignore this, and focus only on England.

As former BBC Trustee and Chair of the Editorial Standards Committee Richard Ayre put it, devolution “represents a growing challenge to UK-wide broadcasters”. But it is a challenge that it will be harder to meet if we assume that UK media must always be based in England. Imagine if Channel 4 moved to Edinburgh – which is after all – home to the UK’s premier cultural festival? This would be devo-max with a difference. It would send a powerful message that the UK union actually meant something – and that the Scottish capital has as much right to be at the centre of things as an English city.

BBC drama studios at Roath Lock in Cardiff. Image: Chris Sampson/Flickr/creative commons.

A more plausible contender, perhaps, is Cardiff – the UK’s youngest capital city. The success of the BBC’s drama studios in Cardiff Bay – the base of production for Sherlock, Dr Who and Casualty, among others – has helped create one of the most impressive media infrastructures outside London, with a healthy supply chain of graduates from the City’s three universities (20 per cent of Cardiff’s population are students) including one of the world’s leading media schools.

As a resident of the Welsh capital – and as an employee of the aforesaid media school – I have to declare a bias. But how many other cities have hosted a NATO summit, the Champions League final and the Rugby World Cup, while developing a cultural reputation for being edgy and innovative? In many ways, this City of the Unexpected would make a perfect home for Channel 4. Oh – and its only two hours by train to central London.

Justin Lewis is professor of communication at Cardiff University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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