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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.