Phil HardingI'm delighted to invite everyone to a sandwich lunch in the newsroom on Monday 2 February to hear Phil Harding, whom you will remember from our welcome week dinner, talk about what makes great radio. Phil is an ex-editor of Today (and hired Tim on to that programme). Here's a brief outline of his work


You may be interested that Phil Harding has today  brought out an interesting and worrying report in conjunction with Oxfam on the decline in foreign news and current affairs reporting - and why this matters.  He was also interviewed about it  on the Today programme this morning.

To find the interview with Phil and Dorothy, log on here, go to the page for Monday 19 January and scroll down the running order (are these terms starting to sound slightly familiar now we have got into radio?). The interview is at 0839am. 

Phil is right. There is a real problem here. Funding for foreign news and current affairs (not to mention documentaries) has slowed to a trickle on terrestrial TV over the last 20 years. You certainly see less of these kinds of stories on ITV and Channel 5, as Phil says. That's not good. We desperately need to know what is going on in the rest of the world.

But what was interesting for me listening to Today was how chipper Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at C4, is about this issue. Compared to the vast and wealthy BBC, C4 has few foreign bureaux and minimal resources to fund independent programme makers to work abroad. These are "unpopular" subjects (Gaza, for example) in difficult places. These stories often involve major security issues and are expensive. Yet somehow, so far, C4 has found a way to do it.

C4 doesn't make any of its own programmes. But its best commissioning executives have developed a pool of clever, independent-minded programme makers who make their programmes. Dorothy's predecessor, David Lloyd, was in his job for a long time and set
up all their main news and current affairs programmes: notably, Dispatches, Unreported World and C4 News.

With the exception of Unreported World, these programmes cover domestic stories too, again often better than the BBC. I happen to believe that's partly because they aren't funded by the licence fee. The licence fee is in effect government money. C4 therefore isn't subject to the same pressures as the BBC from government when reporting on subjects which make government uncomfortable.

That's why I think it would be a disaster for C4 to get any part of the licence fee, either directly, or by merging with BBC Worldwide. This is something that Tim and I somewhat disagree on, and perhaps we can find time to discuss that, either here or elsewhere. 

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Radio journalism masterclass: Phil Harding