BBC Radio 2’s impossible position is of its own doing

BBC Wogan House (taken when it was still Western House)

The UK’s biggest radio station appears to be in turmoil. BBC Radio 2 will see its two most important programmes losing its presenters in quick succession.

Breakfast presenter Chris Evans has been poached by a commercial rival. Meanwhile, long-time Drivetime presenter Simon Mayo is moved on after enduring a famously awkward enforced partnership with Jo Whiley since May.

This trouble appears to be yet another example of the BBC’s self-flagellation. But Mark Lawson has pinpointed how Radio 2 found itself in an awkward regulatory pincer movement that put it in an impossible position.

Clause 1:36:2 of the Ofcom licence requires the BBC to “reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom”, and Clause 1:37 to “make demonstrable year-on-year progress” towards greater diversity both on and off air…

You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that a radio station whose presenters between 6.30am and 7.00pm are five white men over the age of 52 was potentially vulnerable to challenge. However, the problem, an insider argues, is that: “The bosses have never admitted, privately or publicly, that the Mayo-Whiley decision was gender equality driven.” If so, this was likely to be on legal advice: changing Mayo’s working arrangements purely on the basis of his being male could be seen as law-breaking discrimination.

The real problem — as previously noted — is that Radio 2 allowed its schedules to be so male-dominated for the past 25 years. So when questions were finally raised about that, it has been left panicking. In a rush, it is struggling to maneouvre any of its popular and powerful male presenters.

It’s worth remembering, as well, that Simon Mayo left BBC Radio 5 Live eight years ago because he didn’t want to broadcast from Salford when that station moved. His reward for refusing to move north was to saunter straight into one of British radio’s biggest slots.

In that sense, the BBC has brought this problem on itself. The outcome is that, come the new year, the BBC’s biggest radio station’s two biggest shows will have new (female) presenters at the same time.

It’s true that “it’s a lot of change for listeners to accept at once”. But maybe the BBC should have thought about that a few years ago rather than sleepwalking into yet another crisis.

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