Most people like the BBC as it is 

3 March 2010

Although the article leads on a poll result that suggest that the majority of the UK population are “broadly in favour” of the proposed BBC cuts, a new poll published by PoliticsHome suggests that a majority of people are happy with the size and scope of the BBC as it is today.

One could say that I’m “broadly” in favour of the BBC’s plans, but I am also of the opinion that closing Radio 6 Music is a damn fool thing to do, especially as it specifically targets several of the BBC’s strategic points, particularly that it’s unique: its audience is not catered for by any commercial station, nor will it be. If the Corporation wants to focus on doing things the commercial boys aren’t going to do, then Radio 6 Music is a marvellous example whose demographic isn’t covered by any other BBC station let alone lowest-common-denominator commercial ones.

I’m also very much opposed to reducing the size of the BBC’s online operation (although it could no doubt be “refocused” or whatever the appropriate management-speak is), but I’m still “broadly in favour”.

If something has to be shut down (and remember, I am not convinced this is the case) then 1Xtra and BBC3 would be prime candidates in my view. The content of 1Xtra could be wound into Radio 1 without a great deal of hassle, while BBC3’s substantive programming would do well on either BBC One or Two; the bulk of the channel’s output seems to consist of repeats available elsewhere. Just don’t anyone suggest getting rid of BBC Four – it is the single most popular TV channel in our house.

Losing Jonathan Ross, of course, pays for at least one digital station all on its own, and this is certainly one area where I am “broadly in favour” of some of the proposals in that I really do think that overpaid celebs are the purview of commercial television and the Corporation really doesn’t need to bother with them. I want to BBC to deliver high quality programming and not lowest-common-denominator, which I can easily get elsewhere.

Of course, the BBC is always going to be in a lose/lose situation as far as this is concerned. If it makes popular programmes then it’s accused of stifling competition and doing things that should be left to commercial operators. If it makes really cool programming that unfortunately only a relatively small number of people watch or listen to, then it’s accused of wasting the licence fee.

The solution is to focus on quality programming and on things that the other broadcasters don’t, or can’t – or, more usually, can’t be bothered to – do. However if this strategy is followed, we must never ever hear again a complaint that the Corporation is “wasting money” or broadcasting programming that nobody is interested in, as we are saying that these are exactly the areas it should be focusing on. Actually, some areas of excellence, like natural history programming and quality documentaries in general, probably will pick up significant audiences, but these programmes will still differ from the fare on show elsewhere. Compare, for example, the sheer beauty of an Attenborough show on the BBC with commercial offerings that spend so much time recapping that they only make one point every 15 minutes, and it’s a pretty dumbed-down point at that.

But let’s go back to the poll. The trouble with a question like “are you broadly in favour” is that it’s really too broad to give you much useful information, and what it does give has to be understood in context.

Thankfully, some of the other questions in the poll provide some. The question on the size of the BBC overall yields an interesting result, in fact, that could be read as being slightly at odds with the “broadly in favour” question. 34% of respondents think the BBC is the right size, with 15% wanting it bigger and 27% smaller, while only 10% would like the Corporation to go away altogether.

Looking more broadly at the strategic review as a whole, one might suggest that what the BBC is fundamentally up to here is a restructuring to move successfully from an era of digital terrestrial expansion to one more focused on possible future distribution via the internet and on-demand.

In the light of which, perhaps closing a bunch of weird web sub-sites might make sense, while laying off a bunch of on-line staff probably does not.

However another element in the proposals does seem to represent a bowing to political pressures, mainly from the Tories and their media mogul master(s), and the very fact that the BBC is offering to make voluntary cuts sets a bad precedent in my view. Just as funding digital switchover by skimming the licence fee set a precedent to skim it for other purposes, so voluntary cuts send an unfortunate message.

Most people want to see the BBC remain about the same size, and I want to see it rearrange its resources to better address the online age. That does not mean or require the Corporation to be smaller.

I’d recommend anyone who is prepared to take the time to do so to make their views known via the online consultation questionnaire – Meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can read my own comments to the questionnaire here.

You Say

1 response to this article

Russ J Graham 4 April 2010 at 9:10 am

I’m with Armando Iannucci, even down to the swearing. He told the Broadcasting Press Guild:

“I love the BBC dearly and would fight for it to the death. My only wish is that whenever it is accused of something, even if it’s something it hadn’t done, I wish it wouldn’t go to the first police station and hand itself in.

“Surely at the end of the day with all its skill and expertise and all the talent behind it and loyal following, it could find someone to articulately tell James Murdoch to fuck off.”

This report isn’t about telling the Murdochs to fuck off. This report is about telling the Murdochs “please leave us alone. Please please please”. And that never works with bullies. The BBC should stand up to them (and the Daily Mail, and the Tories with their barely veiled threats) as most bullies are cowards.

A bit of the spirit of the king over the water, Hugh Carleton Greene, wouldn’t go amiss.

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