I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I am grateful to him for having applied for and obtained this debate, because I have absolutely no doubt that the BBC will be watching it and that it will take account of the strength of feeling that has been expressed from all parts of this House. I am talking not just about the current affairs programmes, but also about the “Sunday Politics” show. As Liz Twist pointed out, it was only last week that more than 100 of the industry’s most well-known figures, including Sir Lenny Henry, Stephen Fry, Fern Britton and Ken Loach, signed a public letter to the BBC to express their concerns over the future of these programmes and the impact that their withdrawal would have on the communities that they serve. These are programmes that have brought us first-class investigative journalism, and they are at the very core of public service broadcasting. One of the signatories of the letter was Samira Ahmed, who many of us will know having been subjected to questioning by her on the “Today” programme. She wrote:
“I was proud to be part of an Inside Out investigation for BBC Leeds that dared to tackle difficult issues around race and exploitation in the Rotherham Grooming Scandal. Now more than ever we need honest, fearless journalism that is rooted in the long-term expertise and professionalism of BBC journalists who know their local communities.”
I agree with the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) that the BBC is one of the most recognised and trusted brands across the world and that it produces some of the best TV and radio across the globe. As the Prime Minister put it, it is an institution to be cherished. Whether it is the recent drama on the Salisbury poisonings or the documentary following the work of the north-east ambulance service, the BBC lies at the heart of our public service broadcasting system, producing world-class content that serves to stimulate our interest, broaden our understanding, and help us to engage with the world around us.
That understanding of the world, and the BBC’s role as our national broadcaster, has never been more important. As we emerge from the crisis caused by coronavirus, we find ourselves at a time of increasing mistrust and facing an almost daily battle against misinformation. In that world, where “fake news” has had to be added to the dictionary, it is vital that the BBC upholds the values and standards we have all come to expect. The public should be able to turn to the BBC for transparent, impartial, reliable news and current affairs.
That applies just as much, if not perhaps even more strongly, in regional and local coverage, which is the focus of this debate. In the past few months, UK audiences have been turning back to television news. In the last week of March, 79% of UK adults watched the BBC network and regional news on television—up 20% on the previous month. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the 6.30 pm regional news programme on the BBC has often been the most watched programme on television on any given day.
BBC local radio has also played a very important role. For instance, the BBC local radio “Make a Difference” campaign, which allowed a number of people to call to ask for help, support or advice and reassurance, received over 1 million calls.