Saturday, 17 July 2010

We shall fight them on the editorial pages

We shall fight them on the blogosphere and we shall fight them in public opinion. The Con-Dem government nobody voted for is now clearing the way for an attack on the very institution that makes Britain the jewel in the English speaking broadcast crown. They are greasing the track for a mass raid on talent, money and Corporation facilities to be handed over to the private sector. This same private sector that has stopped short of showing us extensive coverage of Katie Price's vagina, the same private sector that has reduced the intellect required to watch most programmes in the last 5 years to charvs who cannot spell and aren't even sure how to boil water.

Clearly the content on offer at BBC1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4 , all fulfil the needs of different parts of the watching public. They each in their own way cater to or pander to specific demographics. But the vast majority of the content is at least based on the desire to inform, entertain and expand the mind of viewers.  If the private sector was able to do this , then there would be no need to have the BBC. But clearly the most cursory scan of the television schedule on any day of the week reveals a sad picture of American programmes, copies of American programmes and charv culture in such abundance you could be forgiven if you thought no one had graduated school in ten years.

My own viewing habits are a case in point. The following is a list of programmes I have deemed worthy of my time. Programmes I have in some cases gone out of my way to see they are so good. See how many of them aren't on the BBC.

Doctor Who, Spooks, Torchwood, Victorian Farm, Eggheads, Mongrels, Rev, Graham Norton, Coronation Street, Midsommer Murders, Top Gear, Mock The Week, You've been watching, 8 out of 10 cats, Secret Diaries of a call girl, Luther, Jonathan Creek, Qi, The Bubble, Private life of Chickens, Proms, Big Bang Theory,  Look North, Question time,The Mentalist, Time Team, The entire BBC4 nature and science output for the last year, Raymond Blanc secrets, Master Chef, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Outnumbered, Joanna Lumley cats/Nile, The week long programme about a car crash investigation, The IT crowd, Doc Martin, Coast, The entire BBC history of the sea season, Dunkirk, The World Cup on BBC. I can go on, but the point would be that outside of a handful of programmes  outside the BBC, I can safely say that I would not be sad to see C5 go the way of the dodo or see C4 be absorbed into the BBC.  ITV has become a parody if itself, foregoing quality for cheap programmes aimed at the same demographic Big Brother was made for. BBC Television does for people what any decent national television network should do. Is it perfect?  Big Top and the Pursuasionists are proof even they make the occasional mistake. But at the end of the day, our telly would be that much poorer without the BBC we know.

The iPlayer, is perhaps the best thing since the invention of the wheel, without being accused of hyperbole. Being able to catch up on programmes  conveniently sorted by name, genre and station is the best way to get some shows a greater audience. The iPlayer is a perfect tool to get maximum bang for the money spent on BBC product. Any move to limit the use or support of the iPlayer should be viewed with  deep suspicion.

The BBC website and news division are integral to the way most people gather news and has a reputation of honesty and accuracy most other news organizations would love to have. To target the news and sports division for selling off and dismantling is destroying a journalistic tradition that goes back so far that most people at the Sun, friends of the government and certain other papers would have to work their way up for a decade to merely come close to that level of quality. Does anybody seriously take Sky news as a credible source for news? Since when is cynical thinly veiled right wing propaganda news?  There is little wonder we are seeing the rise of the BNP/EDL hate mongers among the young and impoverished school leavers too stupid to read for themselves or check facts. Sky has been spoon feeding this lot with enough paranoia and fear to fuel a decade or lunacy. The service provided by the BBC website as a whole is greater than any measure of economy that could be brought to bear on a few highly paid executives and talent. We get our news, we get our base information on everyday things, we get a relatively quick update of information so finely tuned that if somebody farts in an interesting way in Durham, it will be posted and findable with little difficulty. I could say I'm not pleased with the facelift of the BBC news section, but I'll give it a week to prove me wrong. At it's core it's still the same BBC I count on every day of the week.

National and local radio is another place the Beeb has a definitive place in the broadcast landscape. We are surrounded by stations trying to sell us the same top 40 pap with the occasional new x factor bint or himbo breaking the monotony of safe inoffensive drivel that appeases secretaries , housewives and 12 year girls. Where else will you hear new cutting edge music, radio drama and comedy, short audio documentaries and intellectual content Magic and Galaxy will never go near. How else will regional acts not lucky enough to get on Virgin radio get a shot at stardom or at least being heard by  a group bigger than 30 people. When was the last time you heard Elgar on the drive time show. As for the new music, some of which I despise btw, it's like what I want to hear now but can't due to the top 40 storm, it was once cutting edge and new. Local and national outlets of the BBC owe it to the artists that struggle to get heard and should give them as much freedom of access as can be granted. For every Alaxardra Burque who warbles her way to fame on the back of Darth Cowell, there are thousands of artists of every kind who are more deserving of exposure, but are lucky to be heard at all. Whole genres of music depend on the continued help of the BBC to be heard and remain vital living art forms. From Celtic to Bhamra If it weren't for the BBC, it wouldn't be played on mainstream radio or telly.

One last and at least as important thing the BBC does. Without the BBC, regional content and culture and the culture of those who chose to settle in Great Britain would not be reflected. Left to it's own devices, ITV and other private channels would have created a white London centric identity that would have eventually washed away any trace of the regional and replaced it with Westminster English. I know I know , the BBC had it's own role in this as well, but wisely was smart enough to recognize when it was wrong. Today the mandate of the BBC should be recognized and affirmed as the torch bearer of British culture and history, it should be the voice of superlative journalism and the place to see Cricket, Rugby and football without having to subscribe to the special Sky sports pack.

What precisely is bothering the BBC haters like Jeremy Hunt? Competition, alleged unfair competition, Is it so wrong to pay talent a proper wage? How much money is wasted on Piers Morgan or Peter Andre. How much is Jeremy Kyle taking home?  Clearly enough to continue putting out the dreck they do. So why shouldn't talented people like Wossy or Norton or David Mitchell be paid a wage that will keep them at the BBC?  You want quality, you need to pay for it. Can there be some economies? Of course, every place can do it, but  taking a machete to The Beeb, is just criminal. During the war my father listened to broadcasts of music, comedy and drama that kept his and the minds of millions of people off the day to day misery that was life under the threat of bombs. Today the Beeb educates, entertains and gives hope to all kinds from University of the air to how to grow your own drugs.

So who exactly is benefiting from this attack on the BBC?  The private sector, the sector that would have you believe there is only one culture, one view, one demographic and one Britain worth broadcasting to and informing.   It's going to be a long summer, and when the  savages are at the gates, we'll need to be ready to keep the damage to a minimum. Is the BBC worth the money spent on it?  A  BIG FAT YES.

No comments: