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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The First Cut is the Deepest

Currently there’s much of a to do around the BBC and possible cuts to its output (broadcast and web). Press speculation has focused on Radio Six and the Asian Network, and in his statement today Mark Thompson has confirmed that along with a couple of teen services and half the Beeb’s websites these two stations will feel the axe.

The Beeb generates a huge amount of loyalty; for many (me included) it is the soundtrack of their lives. An attack on a part of it is seen as an attack on the whole. These cuts will bring forth an avalanche of compliant, criticism and bile. Much of it will be directed at Rupert Murdoch who as the cheerleader for the opposition to the Beeb is seen by many of us as the devil incarnate. Many of the BBC’s articulate supporters wouldn’t be seen dead with a satellite dish stuck to the front of their house, or with a copy of the Sun in the home, except as something to wipe off the dog shit.

The arguments are well known. The Beeb has a guaranteed income, a unique tax on anyone who owns a TV. The licence fee is (near) inflation proofed, the Corporation’s income is guaranteed come rain or shine. Opponents of the licence fee point out that with the proliferation of TV and radio channels it is possible never to watch the Beeb or listen to its radio stations, yet you still have to pay for a licence. This guaranteed income has meant that it was able to be extremely adventurous when the internet first gained traction; with the result that it now has a massive internet presence. Leaving other news providers following in its wake.

Others argue that it has grown fat, bureaucratic, and arthritic. It pays (and can afford to pay) inflated salaries for talent (sic) and its schedules are safe, popularist and can be provided by the commercial players.

I agree with much of the criticism. I’d like less “Stictly...” and its ilk, less Adrian Child and Jonathan Ross... more “serious” drama, opera, and more Doctor Who! I do not agree with the call to restrict the US imports – much of the best comedy and drama is from the States. As much as I long for the days of “Hancock”, “Not the Nine O’clock News” and “Smiley’s People”, the evidence is that current UK produced sit com and drama is flaccid, predictable and second rate.

Criticism is important and I hope and believe that as a result of the recent call for change, not all from the Murdoch press but its friends as well, the Beeb will refocus on what it does best.

Not branch out into new formats because it can, but only when it feels it can add something unique and worthwhile.

But I would quite happily see all TV go to the wall: as long as I was left with Radios 4, 7 and WS. And a back catalogue of “Top of the Pops” and the “Old Grey Whistle Test”.

Let’s hear it for Bob Harris!!

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