Opinion: The BBC – Snog, Marry or Avoid?

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.

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9 Comments

  • I think Evan Davies and Justin Webb have been a breath of fresh air to the Today Programme. The big problem with it is John Humphries who if he was a woman would have been forced to retire by the BBC bosses years ago.

  • I don’t even like Jeremy Paxman, but I’m very comfortable with the idea that he’s worth four times as much as any local council chief executive in the country. £200,000 for a town clerk is an absolute obscenity. These people should get their snouts out of the trough.

  • I meant Mark Thompson – mind you I’m not fond of Paxman either.

  • I intensely dislike both the BBC and Murdoch’s empire.

    The difference is I’m not forced by law to pay money to Murdoch for using the services of one of his competitors.

  • Stanley Theed 11th Mar '10 - 5:19pm

    I get annoyed with the BBC at times, when it appears to pander to Labour and Tories when (ipso facto) an election campaign is already on. However, it is something that we should prize and protect from malevolent interests whether it be governmental or commercial..

  • Andrew Suffield 11th Mar '10 - 8:27pm

    I like the concept of the BBC well enough, but I think it’s trying to perform too many obsolete functions. It was constructed around the concept of running broadcast channels, because that was necessary at the time, but this has been allowed to become an end in itself at the same time as broadcast channels are becoming obsolete. It would be far better if it shifted focus to the creation of content, rather than the distribution of content.

    So there are things which are easier to watch on DVD – okay, let’s get them direct to download and DVD, as quickly as possible and at costs which reflect their license-funded status. The only reason this doesn’t happen is slavish devotion to the broadcast model.

    Note, I’m not suggesting any major changes or reductions in what the BBC does, but simply a shift in priorities and objectives.

  • However, it is something that we should prize and protect…

    You want to prize and protect it? Fine, you pay for it then, and stop expecting those of us who don’t to subsidise it for you.

  • Just call it CBC and have done with it – all the News and current Affairs are slowly moving to Scotland (it would appear Scotland has almost 60million people and England only around 5 million therefore earns it’s clout as a political powerhouse) Wales is stripping shows from the South West in its “centre of excellence” casualty, being Human moving Bristol to join Cardiff based productions being the latest.

    The BBC cannot even mention the word England – it just sticks in their throats. So lets have done, call it the Celtic Broadcasting Corporation and be gone with all pretence.

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