The sporting arm of a regional BBC radio station has been accused of bias by licence-fee payers
Friday, 16th Oct 2020 10:53 by Chris Fitzgerald
Listeners have accused BBC Radio Manchester Sport of disproportionately featuring Bolton Wanderers games for whole-match live commentary when compared to other clubs in the Greater Manchester area.
Fans are angry that, during the current ban on supporters attending football stadiums, they need to pay £5 to private supplier iFollow for audio commentary for each match, while Bolton supporters can listen to their games on the radio for the sum of their licence fee – which other supporters still have to pay.
While supporters don’t need a BBC licence to listen to the radio, latest figures published by the BBC show that £2.17 of the compulsory monthly £12.54 television fee is spent on its radio stations.
Bolton Wanderers have already featured in the live commentary game six consecutive times this season, despite other local sides – Manchester United, Manchester City, Rochdale AFC, Oldham Athletic, Salford FC and Wigan Athletic – all playing matches during this period.
The trend was picked up by supporters last season and led to growing frustration. A Freedom of Information request from this writer for exact figures of coverage for all the above teams over the past five seasons was repelled by the BBC.
However, a manual countback shows Bolton Wanderers have featured in the live commentary game a staggering 18 times out of a possible 20 this calendar year alone. On 16 of those occasions at least two other Greater Manchester teams were also in action.
Fans of other Greater Manchester clubs, who have taken to calling the station ‘Radio Bolton’, took to Twitter to challenge the trend of lopsided coverage – and met with responses that lacked consistency.
Bill Rice, who works for Radio Manchester, was quick to deny that Bolton featured more than any other team. “It isn’t Bolton week after week,” he tweeted.
Liam Bradford, who also works for the station, at least seemed to acknowledge Bolton featured more heavily than other local teams when he replied to further challenges on the social media channel, saying: “There’s always an evidence-based reason” and “I understand the frustration, but there is no ‘Bolton Bias’ just well-researched editorial decision making”.
However, his response was at odds with an email response direct from the BBC, issued to another complainant, which read: “Editorial decisions are more of a judgement call, than an exact science...”
Rice also challenged one disputing supporter, saying: “You want to be featured every week?” To which the supporter replied: “No, just on an equitable basis instead of it being Bolton week after week. Your station knows how fans feel; they've had plenty of communication about it and there are regular comments online.”
Another supporter said he would cease to pay his TV licence unless the balance was redressed. The trend of consistent Bolton Wanderers coverage has even given rise to a parody Twitter account dubbed ‘BBC Radio BWFC Sport.
However, BBC Radio Manchester denies it has any form of contractual arrangement with Bolton Wanderers, claiming it has no commercial agreement with any club and rights are negotiated at the beginning of each season.
When pressed for an official statement on the Bolton coverage specifically, a BBC spokesperson said: “BBC Radio Manchester provides coverage on all football clubs in the Greater Manchester area, including live match commentaries of all our local clubs in the EFL plus Manchester City in the Premier League. Commentary games are carefully selected, factoring in a number of considerations such as fan base as well as derby, relegation and promotion matches. Radio Manchester also has reporters at every single game of the season, keeping fans up-to-date with all the latest action through match reports, interviews and analysis, plus regular updates across social media.”
BBC RADIO MANCHESTER SPORT MAIN COMMENTARY GAMES IN 2020:
• January 1st: Bolton vs Burton Albion
• January 11th: Rochdale vs Bolton
• January 14th: Newcastle vs Rochdale
• January 18th: Man City vs Crystal Palace
• January 25th: Salford vs Oldham (Bolton not playing)
• January 28th: Bolton vs Bristol Rovers
• February 1st: Bolton vs Tranmere
• February 8th: Coventry vs Bolton
• February 11th: Doncaster vs Bolton
• February 15th: Bolton vs Wycombe
• February 22nd: MK Dons vs Bolton
• February 25th: Blackpool vs Bolton
• February 29th: Bolton vs Accrington
• March 7th: Wimbledon vs Bolton
• March 10th: Burton vs Bolton
• September 12th: Bolton vs Forest Green
• September 19th: Colchester vs Bolton
• September 26th: Bolton vs Newport
• October 3rd: Harrogate vs Bolton
• October 10th: Bolton v Grimsby
Photo: Action Images
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