Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The BBC's Rock and a Hard Place

The BBC has come out fighting against its many critics with a strategic review designed to show that it can reign itself in. There are some positive aspects to the review, including some clear attempts to cut down what can sometimes be seen as a rather bloated operation, and a commitment to reinvest money in new drama and other, British developed programming.

All of which is doubtless very good, but whatever the BBC is hoping, its review won't silence its critics. It won't silence them because for the most part they have political and/or commercial motives for wanting to see a drastically reduced - if not completely emasculated - BBC. The political critics are headed by the Tory Party, which is in danger of simply becoming a Murdoch mouthpiece on the issue of public service broadcasting. They may have a genuine point to make about the way in which the BBC should be run (although despite their criticisms they have not come up with an alternative model to the BBC Trust) but their overall criticism is sheer political rock throwing. That it is ill thought out was demonstrated by Culture Spokesman Jeremy Hunt's back-tracking today ("It's a great national institution" he admitted) and his deputy Ed Vaizey's sudden conversion to the cause of saving 6 Music, now he's discovered it is in fact quite popular. This is the BBC's rock and a hard place - it's damned for not making any cuts, and damned when it does, since any cuts will affect someone's favourite broadcast outlet, such is the BBC's success.

The commercial critics, of course, headed by the Murdoch clan, simply resent the huge market share held by the BBC. If the BBC were to disappear, as the Murdochs want, there is virtually no chance that the quality and diversity of the public service broadcaster's output would suddenly be picked up by Sky and others. We need a public service remit because the commercial broadcasters would have no intention of doing anything other than dumbing down to the lowest common denominator in search of ratings. Look at the demise of ITV's one-time flagship arts programme, the South Bank Show. Look at the dominance of imported US products on Sky, with no genuinely imaginative or niche broadcasting at all. And just consider whether or not, really, any commercial radio broadcaster is really going to replicate the sort of music broadcast by the now threatened 6 Music. The Murdochs detest the BBC simply because without it, they would be able to assume the role of choking market supremacy instead. And if you think that's a good idea, just take another look at Fox News in America. Frankly, I'd rather have the BBC's dominance any day over that of the wretched Australian/American clan.

Oh, and at least the BBC's senior managers come out of the bunker to be interviewed, both on their own services and by others, as demonstrated by Director-General Mark Thompson's appearance on both Sky's Jeff Randall and Newsnight, as well as countless other places. Have you ever seen Rupe or his top executives subjected to a properly interrogative interview on their own channels?

UPDATE: As if to emphasise the independence of BBC news programmes, Jeremy Paxman gave his own boss, Thompson, a merciless grilling, whilst treading lightly in front of ferocious BBC critics like the ludicrous Kelvin MacKenzie, the epitome of knee-jerk triviality if ever there was one.

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