Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Good news on BBC6, but no "epic win" yet for the BBC...

This may all have been an elaborate game on the BBC's part, as this whole episode has led to BBC6 gaining a much increased audience - over 1million listeners now - the publicity clearly helping the station establish its identity. The consultation received 50,000 responses, 80% of which emphasised BBC6; opinion was on the side of this cause and those us of who cared did mobilise good numbers of people, for example, using Facebook. 61 of my Facebook contacts made themselves counted on this issue, though I would urge all in future to respond to the consultation or at least sign the official petition on any such issue in future. Many who did not join the group did complete the consultation, which is in many ways most crucial.

This example shows that if people are sufficiently roused, they can defend things that are good in our society. Admittedly, the Clegg-Cameron government is not going to listen or act in quite the same way that the BBC is able to. The BBC needs to be confident that it can speak for licence fee payers in refusing a government agenda that seeks to marginalise it. That will only happen if we all speak up in favour of a strong BBC focused on delivering quality broadcasting for everyone in society. The more it becomes a niche, the further along the road to Murdochian barbarism we will be.

If the BBC embodies quality, accessibility and breadth, then it cannot go wrong. The majority want that; viewing figures for ITV and Sky hardly show great enthusiasm for the 'alternative', fully commercial approach.

What good slightly left-of-mainstream music there is in Britain finds a home on BBC6: Hot Chip, Field Music, Wild Beasts, the XX. Of course, I understand that you are more likely to get good dubstep and urban music on IXtra and Radio 1 (Mary Anne Hobbs); I would like a show which could combine Jonny Trunk's old discoveries, cutting edge urban music, electronica (such as on the lamented Mixing It) and the more inventive 'indie' bands. BBC6 could provide scope for this - let's hope it is given an FM frequency, to expand its audience even further.

It is concerning that the BBC Asian Network is to be cut; obviously it is not something designed for me, but then the BBC should be providing the widest possible service to all of its citizens. Hopefully what it was doing well can be incorporated within other parts of the BBC, though this may be difficult. The interim report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/review_report_research/strategic_review/interim_conclusions.txt

It is good to hear that the BBC plans to emphasise: 'Distinctive content. We want a BBC dedicated to making its output significantly different from anything available elsewhere, including by setting the highest standards of innovation and quality in its popular programming. Creative ambition should be valued above all else, even if that means taking bigger risks and getting lower ratings.' We must hold them to this.

This too seems fair enough: 'Much of BBC Four’s programming is seen as high quality and distinctive by its audience. Over the coming years the main challenge for the channel is to increase the impact it delivers, particularly in its core areas of specialism.' 'Impact' however, could be interpreted in many ways, including gaining more ratings. It should strive to get quality programmes across to more people, possibly by moving some BBC4 stuff onto BBC2, i.e. major documentary series'. BBC4 should retain what is great about it - a real breadth and a 'place to think'.

A Guardian article today indicates that the consultation revealed disquiet at much of the daytime schedules: ' "Some viewers believe parts of our schedules on each channel lack quality and have become too weighted towards long-running factual entertainment strands with similar formats and covering similar subject areas, characterised as 'collectible hunting' and property. That could spell the end for lifestyle shows including Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt, which make up a large part of the BBC's daytime schedule.' However, the same article mentions more planned emphasis on 'consumer programming' for BBC1.

The lifestyle and property - the consumerist, to put it bluntly - programmes, are the problem. Selling the home ownership dream, doing the job of capitalism on the sly. I would argue that such ideological propaganda should not be part of the BBC's remit at all. It is good that many seem to feel the same way and have expressed this, hopefully meaning some of the offending programmes - little different to their ITV/C4 equivalents - are cancelled, at least on BBC2.
Here is my original online response to the consultation (sent to the BBC on 03/03/2010, my comments marked in bold):
The BBC's strategic principles

The Director-General has proposed five high level principles which would set the future direction of the BBC. These are:

• putting quality first, including five areas of editorial focus for all BBC services

• doing fewer things better – including stopping activities in some areas

• guaranteeing access for all licence fee payers to BBC services

• making the licence fee work harder – being efficient and offering better value for money

• setting new boundaries

The Trust agrees that the BBC should have a set of published principles and, when these are agreed, we will ensure that the BBC is held to account for acheiving them.

Some of the proposed principles are in response to challenges the Trust has set the BBC – such as focussing on high quality programmes and considering whether the current range of services is too large. We endorse these five principles, although we have not agreed to specific proposals in each area.

Do you think these are the right principles?

The emphasis upon quality is good, but there must be an emphasis upon catering for all tastes, not on the BBC targeting the largest commercial market. As a license fee payer, I would like to see the BBC develop some ambitious, contemporary drama series' on BBC1/2 - reignite the ethos of "Play for Today" and "Our Friends in the North".

It depends on what the 'fewer things' are; the popular should not automatically gain precedence over the more niche areas of the BBC's output.

Should the BBC have any other strategic principles?

The BBC should embody the highest ideals of public-service broadcasting, informing the whole public. Promoting and embodying civilised values; not being dictated purely by commercial pressures. The BBC should be unapologetic about its not being purely commercial.

The BBC should not patronise audiences but raise their expectations of broadcasting. It should provide a platform for the marginalised and 'different', i.e. non-mainstream music provision, for example, BBC6 Music.

Which BBC output do you think could be higher quality?

Drama (as already stated) and mainstream comedy. More space should be given to encouraging new comedic approaches, rather than simply commissioning series from long-established names. News coverage could be improved - I think, for example, that the 'doing less better' approach should be taken to the news. There should be more emphasis on quality news programming on BBC1&2 whilst scaling back BBC News 24.

The emphasis on 'lifestyle' programming during the day and evening slots on BBC2 is misplaced and doesn't represent quality broadcasting. The BBC should reallocate resources from those areas.

BBC Radio 1/2 stations could be higher quality, though this should not be at the expense of BBC6 Music.

Which areas should the BBC make more distinctive from other broadcasters and media?

Its music, drama and current affairs broadcasting – as well as cultural coverage. BBC4 should not be cut in any way, but rather expanded.

It should look to have more European, as well as American imports - this would clearly be more distinctive.

The Director-General's proposed editorial priorities are:

• The best journalism in the world

• Inspiring knowledge, music and culture

• Ambitious UK drama and comedy

• Outstanding children’s content

• Events that bring communities and the nation together

Do these priorities fit with your expectations of BBC TV, radio and online services?

Broadly, yes, but the 'ambitious' UK drama and comedy should be more well defined. There should be more original single plays and serial dramas written specifically for television, instead of quite so many adaptations.

The Trust believes that BBC must offer the highest quality programming. We have previously told the Director-General that we think that the pursuit of higher quality may mean doing less overall.

The Director-General has proposed a number of areas where the BBC could reduce or stop activities altogether. The suggestions are to:

• Close Radio 6 Music and focusing the BBC’s pop music output on Radio 1 and Radio 2

• Close Asian Network as a national service and aiming to serve Asian audiences better in other ways on other BBC services

• Change BBC local radio stations, by investing more in breakfast, morning and drivetime shows, but share content across local stations at other times of the day

• Close the BBC’s teen zone, BBC Switch

• Close the teenage learning offer Blast!

• Make the BBC’s website smaller, with fewer sections. (We do not yet have the details of what will be cut)

We can assure you that decisions have not yet been taken on any of these areas and that we will consider each area very carefully before doing so.

We welcome your views on these areas.

I would strongly disagree with the decision to close BBC6 Music, in particular. It caters for an audience that could not be served by Radio 1 & 2 unless there was a radical change in direction for those channels (which could not include a space for the likes of John Peel today). The BBC should provide a home for the sort of broadcasting that focuses on nurturing innovative music - otherwise, British music itself will stagnate and homogenise.

The BBC should consider doing fewer things; e.g. cutting back BBC News 24 and bolstering news on the mainstream channels. Also, rethinking BBC3, which provides relatively little 'difference' and 'quality' programming compared with similar channels geared towards young people.

If you have particular views on how you expect BBC services to be available to you, please let us know.

I would like to see BBC6/7 channels available on FM, but would not be overly concerned if they remained available solely via digital TV.

The BBC archive

The BBC is always considering ways in which it can make its programmes available to you at no cost. For example, recent TV and radio programmes are already available to you soon after broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.

The Trust is not considering specific proposals from the Director-General in this area at this point, but welcome any views you may have on having access to recently broadcast and to older BBC programming.
Please tell us if you have views on this area.

iPlayer service is very useful. I would like to see an online archive of rare BBC material made more accessible.


  1. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/janetdaley/100046080/the-bbc-has-forgotten-what-it-is-for/

    The 'commentators' below make Daley seem thoroughly sane in comparison.

    From the absurd description of the BBC as a 'state' broadcaster, to the tiresomely predictable claim that it pours our socialist/Marxist propaganda (when the reality is that the mix provided is 20% lukewarm socialist, 80% fairly uncritical consumerism), these people really haven't a clue.

    There is only really 'shortchange' who makes a reasonable point; presenters should not be 'lured' by absurdly high wages to work for the BBC.

  2. Dear Tom,

    Really like your eloquent, pithy blog, even if you are mackem bastard.

    Best wishes,


  3. Hi Alex,

    I like what I've read of yours too - keep it going. With mine, there are two massive pieces on the way - a reflection on Alan Plater, and a mammoth trawl through the Michael Jackson back catalogue, in response to reading the wonderful Zero book on him.

    I love all things Novocastrian, though not the football team. Sunderland will win at least one derby next year (albeit with a Northumbrian manager!). ;)