Getting down to brass tacks about media in the regions
IT’S BEEN a pretty bumpy year for the broadcast industry which has been under fire for its lack of diversity, gender inequality and regional imbalance, so the arrival in Leeds of an exciting new media conference is extremely timely.
The inaugural Creative Cities Convention, which takes place over two days at Leeds College of Music next week hosted by journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Wark, will provide a forum for considering these and other pressing issues with the aim of finding lasting solutions.
The line-up of big names and influential figures – including BBC director of content Charlotte Moore, chair of ITV Sir Peter Bazalgette and C4’s chief executive Alex Mahon – is impressive, which gives some indication of how seriously the industry is taking the need to make changes.
“In the last couple of years a lot of attention has shifted towards the importance of growing production beyond London and across the UK,” says Ruth Pitt, convention director and a TV exec and consultant with many years of experience. “There is a general recognition across all the major broadcasters that they need to represent their audience better, on screen and off, as well as grow creative talent outside of London, and it seemed important to reflect that in a new kind of conference. Our main objective is to get the big cities talking to each other, to get creatives speaking to council leaders and to make sure everyone is speaking the same language,” she says.
It is an interesting moment for the industry. As Channel 4 prepares to move hundreds of jobs out of London and the BBC plans its launch of a new channel for Scotland at the end of this year, Ofcom is setting new targets regarding regional representation, so the industry will be under scrutiny and knows it has to step up to the mark.
The conference, which will travel to a different city each year, reflects this and will include contributions from local writers Lisa Holdsworth and Kay Mellor
who will be discussing a sense of place in their TV dramas; Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen, who will be sharing her unique perspective on the media as an actor-turned-politician; and the BBC’s economics editor Kamal Ahmed speaking on economic drivers that might influence media businesses outside London. For Pitt the question of regional representation has long been an area of interest and one she is passionate about.
“It is a passion, bordering on an obsession,” she laughs. “I feel very strongly about it. I have lived in Yorkshire and worked in London for the past 14 years. I understand that much of the industry needs to be in London but I can also see the fantastic talent there is across the UK. If there were more opportunities in the nations and regions, then you wouldn’t get the drain of talent to London. I really think we need to reverse that process.”
Pitt mentions how in the past people were excited to leave London in order to take up posts at Yorkshire Television, Tyne Tees and Granada – which in the 1960s, 70s and 80s were producing award-winning cutting-edge investigative documentaries and some of the highest-quality dramas on British television – and she believes that there is an opportunity now to reinvigorate regional programme-making.
“I really think for people in London we can make it an exciting offer to work in Britain’s bigger cities and bring the excitement back into nations and regions,” she says. “There is amazing production going on in every big city in the country but I think sometimes we don’t champion that enough.”
Creative Cities Convention, April 25 and 26, Leeds College of Music. It is open to anyone to attend. For details and to book visit www. creativecitiesconvention.com.
Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark will host the Creative Cities Convention in Leeds.