Peter Franzen OBE, retired EDP editor

The defence of the changes to local radio and TV by Robert Thompson, head of content for BBC East and London betrays a “head office” lack of understanding of what is “local”.

In a recent riposte in the EDP to criticism of the service now being broadcast by the Beeb he contends: “Our plans to modernise the BBC’s services have just one aim: to offer more value to communities across England as audiences increasingly turn to digital.”

He then goes on to say that the BBC is not cutting its spend but moving 10% of its funding to strengthening the local online services and “the impact of our storytelling”.

Mr Thompson doesn’t explain what this 10% represents in pound notes, but it has had a catastrophic impact on “local” broadcasting at Radio Norfolk and TV’s Look East.

Looking out from Broadcasting House towards the East, I wonder if he really understands the geography of this region?  He refers to the “East” repeatedly in his justification of the current output.

But not East Anglia, which comprises the historic counties of Norfolk and Suffolk and, more loosely, Cambridgeshire and Essex. Even this region is a stretch to call “local”. For that reason, for decades the Look East programme had an east/west split of its “local” news output.

But under the “modernisation” heralded by Mr Thompson he says it offers more value to communities.

Really? Does he understand that stories from Bedfordshire, Northampton and south Essex are of absolutely no interest to the good folk of East Anglia. It’s a turn-off and it will be interesting to see the viewing figures after a year of this better-value modernisation.

There are days when the Look East programming is reduced to one, maybe two stories from Norfolk and Suffolk, with main stories from places that are nearer London than Norwich or Ipswich.

Unlike commercial TV and media, the BBC does not have to attract advertising and promotions to pay for its output, instead it receives a licence fee and employs detector vans to roam the streets to catch those who do not pay up. Even the over-75s now have to pay £159 for the privilege, unless they are on pension credit.

The dash to digital is referenced by Mr Thompson when he states: “I want BBC in the East to be a truly digital-first, multimedia operation that will harness all our amazing content.”

But so many of its listeners and viewers are not caught up in this digital world, and they certainly don’t want their “local” output sacrificed to fund it.

Now I don’t have a problem with the improvement and expansion of digital services, but I do object to “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Both Look East and Radio Norfolk – which dubbed itself the voice of the county – are now pale shadows of their former selves.

What has happened is all the more galling when I read reports that Strictly Come Dancing panel chairman Shirley Ballas is rumoured to be earning £500,000 for the end-of-year series. But that is way behind Gary Lineker who pockets £1.35m for his appearances on BBC.

Salaries like this must really stick in the throat of the10 BBC presenters to have lost their jobs as the corporation overhauls its rolling news channel and merges the BBC News Channel and BBC World News into one service.

Among the well-known faces to have been told that their services are no longer required are Jane Hill, Martine Croxall, Ben Brown, Shaun Ley and Geeta Guru-Murthy.

The BBC appears to have chosen presenters who are familiar to international audiences. Ms Hill and Ms Croxall broadcast predominantly to British audiences on the BBC News Channel.

To quote again from Mr Thompson’s EDP column: “Of course, change isn’t always easy and we have to make some tough decisions…but change is essential”.

Perhaps the time has come to change the way the BBC earns its living. The debate around the licence fee being scrapped prompts questions about how the public broadcaster should be financed and what its journalism should look like.

In the meantime, I have switched to ITV News Anglia. It still has an east/west split with much better “local” content than Look East.