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BBC Radio 4 accused of being too woke but it is a mirror to Britain, says boss

The controller of BBC Radio 4 has addressed accusations the station is too woke, instead suggesting it serves as a mirror to a changing Britain.

Mohit Bakaya faces a number of wider challenges at the helm of Radio 4, including being “concerned” about a slide in audience figures, a change in listener habits, and claims the station has become too woke.

“You have to take that seriously,” he told the Telegraph.

Mohit Bakaya
BBC Radio 4 controller Mohit Bakaya (Cheese Scientist/Alamy/PA)

“There are times when people listen and say that (BBC Radio 4 is too woke). The truth is that Radio 4 is a mirror.

“As Britain changes, you are going to bump into change in Britain on Radio 4.

“If you don’t want change in Britain, or you live in a part of Britain where you don’t see that, Radio 4 can be a rude awakening.”

His comments come in the same week that BBC veteran Martha Kearney announced she is stepping down from her role as anchor of the Radio 4 flagship show the Today programme, amid an exodus of BBC favourites including Andrew Marr and Emily Maitlis – who moved to LBC.

He said: “We have a culture where people are straying towards (outlets) that give them the opinions that reflect their own opinion. That for me is an alarming trend.”

Bakaya, who was appointed controller of Radio 4 in 2019, said the station plays an important role in standing against a change which has seen broadcasters take a relaxed approach to impartiality rules.

“Overall in broadcasting we are seeing people monetise the echo chamber and division, and that is dangerous. If Radio 4 didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it,” he said.

He would not speculate on Kearney’s replacement on the Today programme, but said he gets “frustrated” by the reductive view that it “has to be a woman or a brown person … it has to be the best person”, while adding that the station also has to be “representative of the nation”.

Bakaya did admit that efforts have been made to ensure the Today programme has become “friendlier” in recent times, to make it easier for new listeners to navigate.

In general, Bakaya described it as a balancing act between respecting the original audience and enticing new younger listeners at the station, when adapting to a world that is “changing fast”.

 Lauren Laverne
It is hoped a longer slot on Desert Island Discs will give host Lauren Laverne more time to get ‘more out of the guests’ (Ian West/PA)

“We have to remember that there are people listening who have been there since the first programme was broadcast.

“The one thing I say to programme editors all the time is you have to respect your core audience. If you lose that, then you have lost everything.”

His comments come amid a schedule shake-up at Radio 4, including a later Sunday slot for The Archers, while Desert Island Discs has been brought forward and given extended airtime because it has “grown really fast”.

Bakaya said the longer slot will give host Lauren Laverne more time to get “more out of the guests” after public accusations she does not ask enough follow-up questions.