Friday, 30 July 2010

BBC cuts - let's not be foxed, we want real reasons

Right, the BBC - for or against? More specifically, BBC cuts - wotcha thinking? I'm going to nail my colours to the mast right away and say that I am enormously pro BBC. I love it, I want it to stay, it provides the vast majority of what I watch and listen to on TV and radio, I would consider it a blow to British culture if it was to go or be reduced in any way. So, I'm unequivocal.

So much so that I joined in with a sea of like-minded souls recently and emailed my MP with my concerns after Jeremy Hunt spoke of the proposed cuts to the licence fee. The reasons for this 'proposal' (thinly veiled threat to some) is that the BBC needed to "demonstrate the very constrained financial situation we are now in". Which at first glance, second glance and in fact with every glance so far, begs the question, why? How does cutting the licence fee directly help with the deficit? As far as I can make out, it doesn't but this doesn't stop Hunt and my MP from carefully wording it so that it sort of appears that it does.

But it's really doing no more than demanding that the BBC removes its hat when the funeral procession goes past. Fair enough in some respects but is this really the government's business? Are they here to piously observe the Beeb's manners? And given that they are making such a big noise about the economic state of the country, shouldn't they be getting on with something a little more productive?

I'm not blind to the BBC's faults and in fact agree that they've had way too many 'let them eat cake' moments over last few years. Paying outrageous salaries to the big wigs and some ill-judged broadcasts meant that they made themselves seem both arrogant and flippant - and to the fans amongst us wincing through our fingers, positively self basting . But it musn't be forgotten that the BBC is unique in the level of its scrutiny as a public broadcaster. Its private sector rivals wouldn't fare so well if the spot light were upon them but can rest easy that it's unlikely to have to endure it.

Another, and arguably more severe criticism, would be the criminalising of those who find themselves unable to pay for their licence. It does seem unfair on the very poorest in society and I'm not sure that, worst case scenario, a prison sentence could possibly be justified for something so trivial. But I similarly cannot see that £4 a week is beyond the reach of the vast majority of people. For entertainment, that's excellent value. Less than a bottle of wine, less than hiring a DVD, less than the starter at most restaurants. As issues go, I'm sure this is solvable without resorting to diminishing the BBC in general.

So given that we, the 'all sorts' of Britain, pay for a licence, the BBC is left in the very difficult position of having to juggle catering for all tastes (being populist) with being innovative and creative (lavish costume dramas mainly). Something I think it does rather well - Doctor Who seems to straddle both comfortably. Much as I may loath Total Wipeout, I don't consider it to be the be all and end all of their output and am happy to pretend it doesn't exist while I patiently wait to tune into the next installment of Sherlock or Just a Minute.

One of the points that my MP copied and pasted (I saw someone else had received an identical email) to me was his intention to ensure that cuts were not "capricious or wilfully damaging" but that he would also "support choices that return the BBC to its supposed guiding doctrine of 'Reithianism'". I agree. But whether a bias exists or not should be a matter for a truly independant body to decide. Who knows, maybe the BBC could emerge as one of the most impartial news broadcasters we have. And maybe the government may come across as having a somewhat petty and vindictive agenda. Maybe.

Of course, one of the main platforms that they have chosen to inform the public of their proposals is the BBC, who on this occasion have interpreted Reithian values as not making wanker hand-gestures behind Tory MPs when they're not looking. The whole spectacle has somewhat reminded me of the ungracious rudeness encouraged in Come Dine With Me. You know, that Channel 4 crap.

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