A topical debate programme has been delayed by BBC One Wales for eight months following the axe falling on their last regular series The Hour after just a year at a cost to the licence-payer of about £1 million, and insiders have described the situation as “ridiculous”, The Eye can disclose.
The next debate is to be transmitted by the controversial broadcaster later this month missing much of the political turmoil over Brexit and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, yet our journalists were officially told by BBC Wales that a new debate series would be launched in the Autumn.
It was revealed in the Summer that The Hour was to close, and tenders were published almost immediately for a production company to deliver a new debate programme.
A BBC official informed us at the time: “A new season of debates will launch in the autumn, focusing on the most topical news stories of the day, and the major issues shaping politics and society in Wales”.
Nothing, though, emerged onto our television screens and it became the subject of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
Now a BBC official has told us: “The next debate on BBC One Wales is on Sunday, 17 March. The BBC Wales Live team will present an hour-long outside broadcast debate on Brexit”.
But one BBC source told The Eye: “This is ridiculous.
“It will have been exactly eight months since the last one, yet this has been just the time when we needed a debate programme to show how these major events have affected Wales”.
Scrapping the last regular debate series The Hour did not prove popular, when viewers had described it as “necessary” and even BBC Wales had admitted to The Eye it “capture(d) the mood of the nation”.
On the programme’s Facebook page viewers were very complimentary about a show called Debating the future of the NHS on July 18.
One said it was an “excellent discussion” another that it provided “great insight” and that it was “enlightening” while a further viewer said it was “a necessary entity to air the views of the public in Wales”.
The BBC had seemed equally enthusiastic, stressing that “In 60 minutes, 60 people get the chance to explore a topic in depth and hold politicans to account”.
Yet it was axed by the BBC despite their apparent enthusiasm, and a different BBC insider told us at the time: “The Hour didn’t even have time to get its feet under the table yet now it has gone and cost a huge amount.”
A senior media executive in Wales told us the money to make it had effectively been “wasted”.
Yet this is not the first time that television has made controversial changes to the schedule.
The regular TV Current Affairs series Week In, Week Out (WIWO) was also axed by BBC Wales after a long run of 53 years.
The shock decision to get rid of it came after WIWO had won a clutch of awards including at the Royal Television Society, BAFTA Cymru, the Celtic Media ceremony and BT Wales.
WIWO had also been used as a springboard for Panorama programmes, and one episode still features near the top of an internal document recording highest viewing figures.
Even so it was replaced by the occasional programme ‘BBC Wales Investigates’.
It followed the ending of a long list of TV Current Affairs programmes – including World in Action, This Week, TV Eye and First Tuesday on ITV, and Rough Justice as well as Public Eye on network BBC.
Our Editor Phil Parry, who presented WIWO for more than 10 years until 1999, told WalesOnline: “It is absurd to suggest that putting a label on a story like ‘BBC Wales Investigates’ in any way compensates for getting rid of a regular weekly Current Affairs strand which had been going for many years, like Week In Week Out.
“It never works – they tried to say the same when they got rid of Public Eye on BBC 2.
“Public Eye Investigations was never heard of again.
“When you have a regular series, with a team of people who know each other, an ‘esprit de corps’ develops.
“You know who are the best ‘quick turnaround merchants’ and who are better to be left alone so they can work on longer investigations.”
Campaigners who represent licence fee payers were less than happy about the decision to end The Hour after a run of just one year and at such a high cost.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance told The Eye: “The BBC cannot be this profligate and not expect to face serious and legitimate criticism from licence fee payers.
“Many questions need to be asked about their next steps – if ‘The Hour’ is to be replaced with another debate programme, how can we know whether the next programme will not also be scrapped at eye-watering costs as well?
“The BBC needs to demonstrate better value for money, or calls for scrapping the licence fee will only grow in volume and validity.”
Perhaps apart from Brexit, the next BBC debate will also be about how Current Affairs programmes have been scrapped.
Or perhaps not…
The Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!