I never get up until Tim’s finished

BBC local radio’s unique place in the broadcast landscape

On 1 December MPs will question BBC directors about proposed cuts to local radio and the impact this will have on listeners. (Update: you can watch that session here.)

Earlier this month the broadcaster announced plans for local stations to share more content and broadcast less content unique to local stations. This includes proposals that would see Sunday Breakfast programmes across the BBCs network of 39 local stations homogenised to create ten regional rather than local programmes. What will these changes mean for local audiences and communities?

And, what does faith programming on local radio set out to achieve anyway? Tim Daykin produced and presented the Sunday breakfast programme at BBC Radio Solent for 17 years retiring in 2020. He was invited to share his thoughts at the Wessex Jamaat Mosque. What follows as a contribution to the current debate is an edited version of his address.

Rev Tim Daykin, 30 November, 2022

In the mid 90s I met the then Editor of BBC South Today over a dinner table and we had a robust conversation about what news is and who should make the decisions about what news is reported. Little did I know where this conversation would lead – though the immediate consequence was receiving a rebuke from my wife for departing from the tradition of small talk at table! It led to an invitation to take up an advisory role regularly meeting senior figures in BBC South and also the then Board of Governors.

It became increasingly clear to me that journalists and programme makers are nervous of faith communities. The reasons for this were and remain complex. For some it was because they regarded faith as a waste of time, for others it was an acknowledged ignorance of the content of faith and the issues people of faith might be concerned about.

At the same time many clergy, ministers and representatives of faith communities could be distant, stand-offish, unwilling to engage, or simply frightened of the media.

I’ve hinted at what can sometimes be a difficult relationship between the media and the faith communities. I know that many within the Muslim community especially, feel they are misrepresented in the media and that ’we’ are ‘out to get them’.

I will be quite honest with you and say that my heart sinks when I hear broadcast, or read in the papers, careless phrases such as ‘Islamic terrorist’, and whilst I know there is discussion about the use of the term Islamist, it is clearly important that we get this sort of thing right. It matters what pictures or words the media use when talking about Muslims, not least Muslim women, or buildings and activities. It matters that we understand the diversity of the UK’s many different faith communities. My guess is that most people working in the media would have some idea what the difference is between a catholic and a protestant Christian, or perhaps even an orthodox and a liberal Jew. Should they not also have the most basic understanding of the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim?

So, what are we aiming to do on a on BBC local radio on a Sunday morning?

1. We celebrate what the faith communities are doing.

Faith communities are busy places; they raise millions of pounds each year. Something like a quarter of all charitable work in the country is carried out by faith communities. No one faith has corned the market and you have you own community and charitable projects within the Muslim community. Our job is to showcase what is happening and how it benefits the community.

2. We aim to explain faith and to share peoples’ passion for faith.

The universal experience of people of faith is that religion is at the root of their being. It really matters.

There are also many people who claim to have no interest in religion and yet they still care passionately about questions of meaning and purpose.

Some time ago the One Show on BBC One showed a short film about a comedian who declared himself not to be religious but then goes on to explain how important Liverpool Cathedral has been to him and how his visits there, at different times of his life, have provided the space he needed to reflect. If that isn’t religious then I’m not sure what is.

Religious broadcasting is not just for the self-confessed faithful.

Never before has it been more important to educate people about the different faiths that make up our nation and our world. None of us lives in a bubble. We cannot understand the world unless we understand faith.

Of course its not the sole job of the media to educate but it is an important aspect of what we do.

3. We provide commentary and reflection from a faith perspective.

People of faith have a particular perspective to bring to events in our world. We bring voices to air from different communities who share what contemporary events mean to them and how their faith relates to them.

4. We model how people of faith can engage in dialogue with people of a different faith to their own.

The experience of people of faith is that far from threatening their own faith, getting to know people of other faiths enriches it. If we are confident in our own faith then it is hardly likely to be diminished by speaking to someone of another faith. Local radio uniquely brings different traditions together to model honest, safe and open discussion where differences are explored as well as similarities

5. Finally, we have a role in ‘Calling to Account’.

The simple fact is that in every community, including faith communities things can and do go wrong. It is properly the job of the media not to brush these things under the carpet but to expose them to the light of day and to provide an opportunity for faith leaders to respond.

To make all this work we rely on strong relationships of confidence and trust.

Drawing on my own experience as a producer and presenter at BBC Radio Solent I recall how on the morning after the horrific attack in Borough Market a member of this mosque texted me at a quarter past four in the morning to offer to speak on the programme about the attack and a little later I received a text from the chair of the Muslim Council of Southampton. I was thrilled they had the confidence to do this, and enable us to bring real diversity to the programme.

Local radio is unique in giving opportunities for real partnership between broadcasters and the communities they serve. It’s one of the treasures of the broadcast landscape and without it all our voices will be diminished.

Canon Tim Daykin retired from his role at the BBC in 2020. He is currently a member of the Chapter at Salisbury Cathedral.

‘I never get up until Tim’s finished’ are the words of an Isle of Wight listener about the Sunday Breakfast programme on BBC Radio Solent.

BBC Radio Solent broadcasts to Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.