It has been open season on the BBC of late.
We all have our reasons for criticism: the incompetent decision to close 6 Music, the failure to manage budgets, the excessive salaries of performers and especially of senior managers create a climate of anger which serves only to underline the perhaps more important failures to deliver quality public service broadcasting.
I have long been a critic of the ‘Today’ programme, which is overlong, too pleased with itself and too inclined to slide into its comfort zone of two party politics. Andrew Neil’s political vehicle ‘This Week’, a weekly genuflection before the altar of bipartisanship, is a disgrace to the Charter.
Meanwhile quality is astonishingly variable, especially in comedy. ‘We are Klang’ on BBC3 was jaw-droppingly awful but there is plenty across the network which challenges it for the wooden spoon. Meanwhile the brilliant ‘Outnumbered’ got lost in the schedules so that it was easier to watch it on DVD.
Clearly the institution is in need of dismemberment? Or is it? It is still a great institution. I started with my pet hates (missing out ‘You and Yours’ for reasons of space) but my list of pluses is far longer, encompassing much of Radio 4, nearly all of Radio 3, 6 Music, many aspects of local radio and the wonderful website. Others will have similar lists – but significantly these lists will differ, because the BBC is a varied broadcaster.
The clue I think was the recent Paxman interview with Mark Thompson, a man paid £800,000 a year and who has famously expressed his contempt for county council chief executives (who are paid usually no more than a quarter of that). He was hesitant, shifty and evidently poorly briefed even about his own proposals. Any council chief who performed as weakly as Thompson would be well advised to start negotiating a severance package.
The BBC needs and deserves better leadership. Costs can be managed. Marketing (be honest – had you ever listened to 6 Music before the axe began to swing?) can be improved. Past mistakes (eg the move out of London and the move to White City) can be rectified. The culture of extravagance can be changed if those at the top set an example.
Kelvin MacKenzie, speaking immediately after the Thompson interview, said that most of it can be sold off and managed commercially.
This was a bit of a giveaway. The real issue for the right is that the BBC is seen as a threat to the Murdoch empire. We must not pander to this agenda by agreeing that the BBC is somehow too big while suggesting helpfully which bit can be sold off in order to keep this other (less popular) bit in the public broadcasting fold.
The genious of the BBC is that it reaches all of us when it gets things right. No wonder Murdoch hates the competition.