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Equity members to lobby BBC to reverse short story cuts

19 July 2011

Equity has come together with the Society of Authors and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain to campaign against short story cuts on BBC Radio 4.

In a letter to BBC Trust Chair Lord Pattern the three organisations have written: "We are deeply concerned at these proposed cuts and believe that they will lead to the BBC breaching its Charter and particularly its duty to stimulate creativity and cultural
excellence. The BBC has a duty to offer the best examples of creative work that engage and delight audiences, break new ground and encourage interest in cultural, creative and sporting activities. Short stories, with the use of the single voice, provide an opportunity to create great moments of drama and intimacy for the listener. It is a versatile and flexible medium which can surprise and delight and encourage audiences into unfamiliar territory."

BBC Radio 4 station controller Gwyneth Williams (left) announced in July that the number of short stories broadcast by Radio 4 will be reduced from three to one a week from the spring next year. Equity is encouraging members to write directly to Gwyneth Williams to persuade her against the cut. Reducing short stories by two-thirds will result in loss of work for Equity members while saving Radio 4 a negligible amount of money, Equity believes. Members are also encouraged to sign the petition set up by the National Short Story Week against the proposed cuts.

The move is likely to cause uproar amongst Radio 4's loyal listenership, especially as the BBC made the announcement that it was cutting short stories on Radio 4 while at the same time promoting National Short Story Week, an annual event which aims to focus the attentions of the public and the media on the short story and short story writers, publishers and events.

Equity's Audio Committee, made up of members who work regularly in radio and other audio areas, is currently collating data on the reduction of budgets at the BBC Radio as part of an campaign  for the renaissance of radio drama , which includes readings and short stories. Equity believes that with the gradual phasing out of short stories in the printed form the BBC are contributing to the demise of the genre through the constant reduction of budgets available in radio.

Equity also believes that radio drama is threatened by the lack of resources allocated to it by the BBC resulting in the number of productions being reduced. Equity fears that if  the number of productions continues to drop radio drama could sink below the critical mass that will keep it viable. This appears to be what has occurred at the BBC World Service.

Equity member David Clive has added his view to the campaign that cutting short story reading is of specific detriment to those with sight imparimenets. "I have joined the petition  for the additional reason that it will cut the enjoyment of those with limited or no sight.  Such people rely on transmissions of this kind as well as using audio books, which are often read by Equity members"

The Stage has reported that a spokeswoman for the BBC said Radio 4 will still commission around 100 short stories a year from next year - 50 of which will be broadcast first on Radio 4 Extra.

“Radio 4 will continue to support the National Short Story Award, with all five short-listed stories broadcast across the week. Radio 4 also continues to broadcast its popular reading strands Book of the Week and Book at Bedtime and promote books and reading in programmes such as A Good Read, Open Book and Book Club. Dramatisations of works of fiction can also be heard in the Classic Serial and the Woman’s Hour drama. Radio 4 Extra also commissions a number of abridged book readings throughout the year,” she said.

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