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tv   The Media Show  BBC News  May 15, 2022 4:30pm-5:01pm BST

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in response to russia's invasion of ukraine. a british military intelligence assessment suggests russia may have lost a third of its ground forces since the start of its invasion of ukraine. president biden says america must do all it can to end hate—filled domestic terrorism, after ten people are killed in a shooting in buffalo. the uk government says it wouldn't be deterred from taking action over post—brexit trading arrangements in northern ireland to try to help restore power—sharing at stormont. and a triumphant ukraine wins the eurovision song contest after claiming the popular vote. now on bbc news, the media show.
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hello. welcome to the media show. welcome too to the headquarters of channel 4 in central london. and we're here because the government has confirmed it's pushing on with its plans to privatise channel 4, despite the reservations of the broadcaster. so we're going to look through all of the issues that this raises with our guest today, the ceo of channel 4, alex mahon. alex, thank you very much indeed forjoining us. this wasn't the outcome you wanted. so where did it go wrong? well, i'm not sure that it went wrong. i mean, obviously, this is the government's decision to make. what i would say is it's never quiet times at channel 4. this is not a job you would take if you wanted an easy life and a restful retirement. how often do you speak to the dcms or to nadine dorries? well i speak to dcms plenty, you know, i'll be speaking to them later on today. i spoke to them last week. we have a lot of interaction with them, we've had a lot of interaction with them during the pandemic where they've
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been a very supportive department in the industry. but obviously now i'm speaking to them a little more than usual. you say they've been supportive, but they did say your recent proposals for channel 4 were based on flawed assumptions. so clearly, at some level, you're not successfully managing to make your case. i'm sure you've reflected on why. why do you think that hasn't happened? well, i think my position on privatisation is very clear on the public record, but the decision has now been taken by government, not myjob to challenge or lock horns with government. that's clearly their decision to make. i mean, we had an alternative plan that we thought very clearly as the experts who run the business and the custodians of the remit and the people who know how to deliver it best, we thought that plan was a very clear benefit to us remaining in public ownership. it was about training, it was about bringing young people into the industry, it was about spending more across the nations and regions and spending more with independent producers. but that's not the choice
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the government chose to make. but i'm just trying to understand, you know, you're a careful student, not just at channel 4, but of the industry and of the government. you must have views on why the government is adopting this position. so, for example, i saw that ey — the analyst ey — said "if the new private owner of channel 4 reduces its spend on new commissions as a proportion of revenues in line with itv, we estimate that channel 4's value to the economy via its supply chain could decrease by 15%." that's £1 billion. now, on the face of it, that would seem persuasive. why do you think the government is not persuaded? is it ideological? well, look, for me, ideal in facts. i like the fact that you say i'm a careful student, but i deal in facts, data, evidence, don't deal in speculation. it's not for me to speculate on the government's purposes. you'd have to ask them that. i think what is very clear is the white paper was out last week, week before, if a private owner were only to follow the licence requirements
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as laid out currently in the white paper, it could cause a loss of up to £320 million a year to the independent sector and up to £86 million a year to the nations and regions in terms of spend, because we spend, at the moment, 55% of our money in the nations and regions. the white paper says that would drop to 35%. we spend all of our money on producers outside of channel 4. the white paper says that would go to a 25% quota. those are the decisions that the dcms and the government have made. ourjob is only to say what might be the consequences of those decisions as they go through this process. we'll get into the consequences at the moment. but i'm interested, do you accept that privatisation is happening? well, that's got to go through a two year process, hasn't it? i mean, that's the government's stated desire. it's up to them now as they will do to go through that process for. for us, we've got to run the business during that.
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we've got to co—operate with them quite rightly, there are stakeholders, but we've got quite a job to do as management, ensuring that channel 4 is strong and it's healthy. as you all know, we did our financial results last week. they're the best in our a0 year history. so i think it's fair to say that we are really thriving as a business. i've got to make sure that for the next two years, as all of this turmoil goes on, that i focus on that and making sure that we're a very, very strong organisation. are you still lobbying to try and persuade tory mp to not support? that's not myjob to do. this has got to go through government process and parliament. i've got to focus on running channel 4 as an organisation. you would aspire to spend significant amounts of money on lobbying in the run up to this consultation. i'm not spending my time lobbying, this is about all of the constituents who've got a point of view, whether it be pact, whether it be the indies, whether it be regional mayors, whether it be members of the public have all got points of view, and you'll see that all come out over the next year or so. and i completely understand why that channel 4 is 39 and a half, not long to our 40th birthday. i think no matter what happens, i'll probably make it to a0. and it's an important part
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of the public service broadcasting landscape here. and changes to the public service broadcasting landscape can't happen without that kind of debate. and presumably you would agree with nadine dorries when she says this is 2021, now 2022, of course, not 1982, she said, "the broadcasting landscape has changed beyond recognition." that's indisputable. that is indisputable. so tell me how you plan to change this broadcast, so you don't agree with the government's plans, but presumably you do agree change is necessary. channel 4 should never be standing still. in fact, channel 4 is like the broadcaster that doesn't stand still, we always need to change and really don't want to be someone who's seen as defending the status quo or sort of ensuring that we remain kind of pickled in aspic. right? this is about how do we evolve, but that's what we've been busy doing. we are the broadcaster who has the biggest share of digitally. we are the broadcaster has the most of our business in streaming, whether that be amount of viewing or money that we make in streaming in the commercial sector. we've been very, very busy adapting to that change, way ahead of the competition. well, you say you've been way ahead of the competition. there are several areas where people could argue channel 4
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could have gone further. let's start with one aspect of your plan, which is, in your words, to become a northern based broadcaster with the majority of our workforce based outside of london, 5,000 jobs created. you've been in thejob for, i think, four orfive years now. you could have announced that ages ago. well, what i announced two years ago, i think i'm right in saying, was that we would switch a significant amount of staff to the nations and regions. as of now, we've got 400 roles outside of london. that is way faster than perhaps the bbc announced it was going to go to salford, moved. we've moved really fast because we're a smaller organisation and we can. in the alternative plan we published, i said we'd get to a few more hundred roles and we'd get the majority outside of london. that's not the plan now that we're pursuing. i'm not sure that anyone could have moved as fast as we have done to get offices up and running in leeds, and in manchester, and glasgow and bristol and to get them staffed
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up at the rate we have done. but while the comparisons are perhaps limited, the bbc moved the whole of 5live. it moved bbc breakfast, it moved bbc sport. it moves significant chunks of the operation. you're still based in london, ian katz, your chief content officer, still in london. many of your senior leaders are in london. the majority of your staff are in london. and this is several years after you've been in charge. i'm merely suggesting that what you've put in this proposal now is something that looks like a reaction to the political situation you're in, rather than something that culturally this organisation believes in. well, it's a good question. i think you've got to look at speed and direction of travel. i think i'm right in saying it was eight years from when the bbc announced its first intentions to get places outside of london to when that actually happened. we did two. we're now spending 55% of our money outside of london in two years. we said we'd get to 300 staff in two years. we're ahead of that by 100. we said 50% by 2023. we're ahead of that. two years ahead of plan, we were ahead of it. so i was just saying we could do more. that's a significant shift to make.
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last year, 66% of our qualifying hours were made outside of london. we've got a business 4 studio entirely based in leeds, which is now the brand that has got the biggest reach on social and youtube and facebook in the uk. that's going somewhere, right? i'm like really happy to go faster than a plan. and the alternative plan was just how could we go faster again? but how do you lead an organisation when the government's asking it to become one thing and you think that thing is not a good idea? how do you avoid... do you want to give me any notes? all suggestions welcome. i mean, what i would say is channel 4 is like quite a special place. people end up working here because they like dynamism, they like change. sometimes they like being the alternative. so what i would say is when times are tricky for channel 4, and it's never a simple here, the staff kind of tend to double down and think about what the channel 4 spirit and remit and purpose and values are. so they help me through it a lot, but we've got
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a complex time to navigate. but i want to understand this a little better. so first of all, the government says, look, if we privatise channel 4, we instantly get in the region of £1 billion, which we can feed directly into the sector that you'll say is going to be harmed. so do you accept that that creative dividend, to use the government's phrase, exists? well, that would completely exist. i have no idea how the government would structure that at this time. i'm sure that will... so it would be a short term benefit, but you're arguing in the long term. i'm not sure how that would be a benefit. we spend 700 million on that sector a year. we've announced this year that we'll spend more than we've ever done. so all of our spending, the vast majority of our spending goes into that sector. so if it's one billion once or 700 million a year, it doesn't take a mathematical genius to work out that it takes about, what, 1.3 years for those to even out? so i completely see how that could go to the benefit of the sector. but it's more than just spend, right? the point is about the right structure that we have agreed with the independent sector.
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because we give the ip rights to those companies, the profitability of those shows sits on the balance sheets of lots of small and medium companies. and while you see that as a plus, there are some people who say your approach to ip is one of channel 4's main problems. for example, lord grade, michael grade, argues channel 4 has to look at the ip issue because if you don't hold the ip to your biggest hits as a business, fundamentally, as streaming continues to dominate, that undercuts your endeavours. why do you not agree with that? i think it completely depends what the objective of running the business is. so if you were a privatised organisation, you might want to have the ip to make money from it by selling it to others. as we are currently run, what you would want is rental of that ip for a long enough period to show it to your viewers so you can make money from it. that's what we currently have. we have those shows for three years in agreement with pact. we run them all on our linear service and we run them all on our streaming service, and we make money from advertising through those shows. if you were a privatised
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organisation, you might want to hold on to that ip forever, but we have not found it an impediment to our business to not own that ip permanently. but you could look at the direction of travel with advertising, now, you're right to highlight the fact your digital advertising revenue has gone up significantly, but your tv or linear advertising has fallen overall. if we think about where young consumers are spending lots of time, like youtube, they're watching plenty of advertising. i don't see advertising as a way of making money disappearing. in fact, if anything, i see young people watching more adverts as the volume of time they spend viewing video goes up. this quarter, we just closed like 01, our revenues were up 20% year on year. the digital revenues were up 29% year on year. so we're finding digital advertising is bringing us plenty of money. but i'm not disputing that digital advertising is going up. i'm just wondering whether, notjust in terms of channel 4, but more broadly across the industry, you think digital advertising can replace the inevitable pressures that will come to bear on linear?
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yeah, i think that's absolutely the right question. right? do we believe that digital growth and digital advertising can compensate for linear decline? and if you think about, aside from government and privatisation, that's the interesting question of how you run the business. can you kind of clutch control between the two and grow digital fast enough to compensate? that's been our strategy for the last three years. so far, we've found it very successful. last year, digital was about 19% of our revenues and about 13% of our viewing, and we're growing ahead of our traditional competition. and you will have seen over the last few weeks, even netflix thinking they might just move into advertising. yes, they've they've hinted that's coming in the next year or two, haven't they? now, listening to you, you've got two clear goals, channel 4's cultural impact and running a successful business. one final question on the issue of ip, of intellectual property, when you have shows like the circle or top boy, which is a drama based in london, starting on channel 4, arguably incubating on channel 4 and then ending up on netflix, doesn't that harm both of your goals?
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i think it depends what your goal is. if your goal is cultural impact and making money does not losing a show that you help develop... our goal is not making money, right? our goal is earning and making money in order to fund our business to make it sustainable. it's not a profit driven organisation at this time. let's see what happens by 202a. so look, our goal a lot of the time is to be a very big r&d factory for the uk creative industries. you know, if you look at, we were at the baftas on sunday night, you know, when you see someone like mo gilligan winning an award or you see a show like help, one of ours winning awards, we see people who've been on our channel who are on other channels now winning awards. that's a joy. but most of that research, if you like, loses money. most are starting with new people, new directors, new producers, new writers, new actors, new presenters. they have their first shows with us, you know, and that's a great thing.
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and then they start off and then they get bigger and then they turn up somewhere else. for the uk creative industries, that's a positive thing. if you are trying to make money forever and hold onto them, that's not necessarily... at the moment, that's how we run the business. now, you mentioned the baftas on sunday night. congratulations on the awards that channel 4 won. nadine dorries, the culture secretary, has said that government ownership is preventing you from competing against streaming giants. i've heard you make the case many times that certain programmes wouldn't get made if channel 4 was privatised. on sunday night, we heard stephen lambert, the man behind many very well—known channel 4 programmes, call the privatisation plan "destructive". and he said these kind of risks — referencing gogglebox�*s commission — will not be taken under this plan. help me understand, help people understand why you think a privatised channel 4 can still not create many high impact programmes. so you heard stephen,
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and i think steve mcqueen and a whole load of other creative geniuses, talk about the value of public service broadcasting. and there was a particular focus on channel 4, on what we do. it's fair to say that when you're running a business not for profit, and i've run plenty of businesses for profit, right, for private equity, for listed companies, for media moguls. so it's not like i'm unfamiliar with making a profit. running not for profit, where you're objective is about impact on britain, social impact, representation, is a very different objective. and you know, as a manager you solve for your objective. if you're at netflix, your objective is subscriber lifetime value. so we focus on how we do that, which allows us a privilege to make a lot of shows that are really different. so what's been on in the past couple of weeks, davina's menopause show,
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the menopause part two, something like hell—raiser, something like derry girls. i don't believe that you would focus on those shows if your motivation was profit. i don't believe that you would make the paralympics at a loss. i don't believe you would make it sustained, because they're all risky shows that lose money. but in the end, i guess, the uk has a range of public service broadcasters operating to a range of different remits. some people might say, well, given we have other public service broadcasters, can some of the programming you're describing — for example, paralympics coverage — if not be picked up by a privatised channel 4, then it more likely than not will be supported by one of the public service broadcasters. ithink, look, there's a couple of points that, you're absolutely right to point that out. let's take the paralympics, because that was in the market. right? and channel 4 picked up. since we took it, we've invested multiple times more than others did. you know, the last paralympics in beijing, the winters, we put an entirely disabled presenting crew on it. you would never do that if you were trying to cover it, but also make money,
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because those things lose lots of money. you would never think every time, "how do we make it bigger? "how do we go further? "how do we set the global standard?" we know that one factually because it was in the market before and no one did it and it is in the market in every other territory and no one covers it in the way we do. i suppose what i'm trying to understand is whether there is a disconnect between the programming that channel 4 is offering the uk and the world, and how channel 4 sees itself. so for example, in cats, your chief content officer said you've gone from being the enfant terrible to a troublesome uncle, acknowledging the fact that you're an older organisation. he put out a commissioning document in april titled here comes trouble. he says he wants to give a voice to the unheard, say the unsayable and show the unseen. but then i'm looking through today's channel 4 schedule and there's frasier, undercover boss usa, couples come dine with me, countdown, a place in the sun, great house giveaway, sun, sea and selling houses. that doesn't feel like
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it's a network which is saying the unsayable. that's mostly the daytime schedule, as you well know. but there's also a load of things that have been on in the past couple of weeks, like the davina show that i mentioned, derry girls, hellraisers, documentaries that we've had on, we've got coming up, something big on elon musk. we've got troy deeney on how important it is that black history is taught in schools in the uk. we've got ghislaine maxwell documentary coming up. there's a whole range of things. there's also the huge piece we did about kyle and kind of death on daytime. there's a set of things we do continuously. whilst fraiser is a magical programme in the mornings... i'm not disputing fraiser�*s might. and that's our point of competition in the mornings because there's other things that people watch traditionally and they also want an escape from reality. but i wonder if you're grappling with a broader issue, which is that when channel 4 started, the things that it represented were running counter to the mainstream. but actually some of the things which channel 4 now represents have become the mainstream. and as such, it's not so clear what channel 4
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is pushing up against. well, i would say two things, i think you're absolutely right to say in an age of youtube, what is there shocking left to put on television? we seem to still be finding it. but then you also have to look at the evidence. the evidence is we've got by far the youngest profile of viewers. the evidence is we're the most financially successful we've ever been. the evidence is that we're doing incredibly well digitally, and we're ahead of our competition. 0ur young profile is like 34% of the audience. itv's is 21%. i understand what you're saying about "can you always be the naughty child or do you end up in being the troublesome uncle," which sounds slightly peculiar. or the dad on the dance floor. but what we see is that we continue to make that impact. so you might never have thought that channel four, that troublesome child, would be the the broadcaster representing all the women in their search for hrt. but this week we are and i think that's something to be really, really proud of. but then if we think of blatter front day,
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of black to front day, which was on in september, a day where all the programming was fronted by black talent and had black crews behind the scenes and were all the adverts were reshot with black talent in them. that's a massive thing, that will make, when we announce the sort of legacy commitments from them, that's making an impact on the industry. so i would argue there are still massive areas where we can make impact, and i continue to see that in the programming we do. and you mentioned young people. let's look at the way they're consuming content, notjust tv, because, of course, 20—30 years ago, channel 4 would have been competing with bbc one or itv to get them watching. now you're competing with a range of social media platforms and tech platforms. some of the data, i'm looking here at some, the percentage of adults viewing at least 15 minutes of channel 4 on linear tv in an average week, as has declined the sharpest decline being amongst 16 to 24—year—olds. i mean, presumably that's not a surprise. no, i think it's really interesting to think about how young people are viewing. so there's a recent la times report that said gen z is now watching 7.2 hours of video a day and gen x, which i guess was the one
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before, is it 6.3? so just in one generation, look at the volume of video that people are viewing a day and how much that's gone up. and about 50% for the youngest, about 50% of watch they're watching is long form what we might call traditional, no matter how it's distributed for the generation before that, x, it's about 70%. so these are fast switches. but what you see is the video day, if we like, is elongating. the demand for high quality traditional content remains there. right? so the onus on us is how do we switch to distributing it in the ways they want, because the content is in demand. so that's why we've switched so much to allli and where we're getting that streaming growth. i have no doubt that people want the content. it's are you making it available in the places where they want to see it? and this is an area i'm very interested to hear your views on, because all content creators, all content creators are wrestling with "when do we put our content "on our own platforms versus when do
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we put versions "of our content out on third party platforms, youtube, "tik tok, wherever it may be." how do you view that on and off platform conundrum? that's an easy one for me because we're like small and grubby enough to partner with anyone. and channel 4 always has been, right? it's never the bbc or itv, so we don't have to think we'll only be on our, as it used to be called, "walled garden" or will only be on our owned and operated service. you know, we've been making agreements with sky for a long time. we've got lots up on youtube. we were the first to make a deal with snap. make a deal with tiktok. those things have really benefited us. it's my belief that you've kind of got to fish where the fish are. and do you thank you can make money off that? 0r thatjust helps making money? you're making money and that's your pre—roll advertising orfrom advertising in it and from partnership deals. we've got four studio. that team i mentioned earlier that we set up in leeds, which is a huge digital growth story
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in yorkshire last year, 1a billion views, you know, that's generated through youtube, facebook, snap, tik tok. it's all about us getting the reach to the young audience, 16 to 2lis on those platforms where they are, because we've got to follow them. and if i was sitting here in five years time talking about this with you... you'll go onto much higher things. maybe right here on the bbc show with you. but but but what would be my i'm interested to know what would be your my options to watch programming do you imagine a scenario for example where the networks bbc one, bbc two, itv and channel 4, channel five become largely irrelevant versus the streaming platforms? i think it's a bit easier in a way to think about ten years on, because i think what you will look for there is a signifier of trust as a brand, as a consumer thinking of you as a consumer, you look for, "do i recognise that brand channel four? do i feel it will give me the kind of things that i can trust to make a choice on and that i will like? therefore, i'll make choices based on that." and i think we will survive in that
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world where the strong networks fit into that. ultimately, everything will be digital. it'll either be ip streamed or it will be prominent on other devices. that's a good thing in white paper. linear television will die over time, won't it? but brands will survive because we need things that will help guidepost us and signify where we're going to make good choices. you know that feeling of, "oh, lordy, i've gone into netflix and i can't find anything i want to watch." you know, that choice of like slumping on the sofa and thinking, "oh, what am i going to pick now? i'm halfway through this. halfway through that." what happens in that world is brands are a stronger, stronger signifier to consumers who are overwhelmed of what they should choose. now, just before we wrap up i appreciate you would prefer privatisation doesn't happen, you've outlined the reasons why, but if it does, can you see a version of a privatised channel 4 that that works by some metrics. i think channel 4 is a really attractive business. you know, it's got the best results
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it's ever had creatively, commercially, financially and in terms of remote programming. i can see why lots of people want in on that, and i can see how that can be a success in all versions of the future. so i've got to get us to a 40th birthday, that's in november. you'll be invited. and then i've got to make sure it's strong for the next a0 years and that i agree with the government on. they've said the same thing. alex mahon, thank you very much forjoining us. thank you for having me. remember you can hear this edition as well as all previous editions of the media show via bbc sounds. that's it for this week, though. thanks for listening. we'll talk to you at the same time next week. the forecast has not gone to plan
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today. i brought us the sunshine and warmth yesterday been replaced by following pressure, strengthen breeze, and rain that has been pushing up from the south. yesterday, sunshine widely across southern parts of in one, very warm, today much more cloud around and some rain, too. and that rain will continue to push northwards this evening and overnight. so some wetter weather heading up across northern england towards northern ireland into southern parts of scotland, following on from that some thundery downpours possible across southern parts of england, perhaps into south wales as well. a very and muggy note, if you are hoping to see the super blood moon, the best chance of clear skies will be across northern parts of scotland. cloudy starts tomorrow, misty with some further burst of rain, again potentially heavy and thundery, again with a northwards up into scotland, allowing some sunshine eventually in northern ireland. sunshine develops more widely across england and wales, but still some thundery downpours possible here and there. a warmer day in the sunshine, but much cooler i think in scotland where it is cloudy and wet into the afternoon.
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the wetter weather moves are wagered on the evening, and then we await the arrival of this next weather system coming in from the atlantic. and that will draw up some warmer air ahead of and that will draw up some warmer airahead of it and that will draw up some warmer air ahead of it on a southerly breeze. many parts of the country will start dry on tuesday, with some sunshine around, then on that weather front, sunshine around, then on that weatherfront, we sunshine around, then on that weather front, we see this rain developing and western areas, especially during the afternoon. it could turn heavy. ahead of it in the southerly breeze and sunshine, it will be warm, the warmest day of the week ahead, 26 celsius likely in the south—east of england. but given the heat, we could trigger a few storms later in the day. most of the weather coming from that weather front there, kissing rain eastwards overnight. that should be moving away from most areas, i think, on wednesday, but again the devil will be in the detail, many places starting dry on wednesday, some sunshine, showers in the north—east of scotland moving away, thickening cloud arriving in the south—west, bringing some rain in as well, maybe northwards and eastwards during the evening and into the night, but ahead of that developing rain, temperatures into the low 20s in
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many places. that is the theme through the week ahead, some warmth, some rain at times, but every now and again, potentialfor some heavy and again, potentialfor some heavy and even thundery downpours.
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this is bbc news — i'm lewis vaughan—jones — the headlines at 5:00pm: sweden and finland signal plans tojoin nato in response to russia's invasion of ukraine. the head of the military organisation is ready to welcome them. their membership in nato would increase our shared security, demonstrate that nato�*s door is open, and that aggression does not pay. a british military intelligence assessment suggests russia may have lost a third of its ground forces since the start of its invasion of ukraine. president biden says america must do all it can to end hate—filled domestic terrorism, after ten people are killed in a shooting in buffalo. the uk government says it wouldn't be deterred from taking action over post—brexit trading
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arrangements in northern ireland — to try to help restore power—sharing at stormont.


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