Sunday, 2 November 2008

What Shall We Do About Auntie?

Lord Reith is dead: the concept of the BBC as 'Auntie', the universal bringer of news, entertainment and child minding is never going to return. The American version of public service broadcasting is a underfunded, semi-elitist dead end. So what do we want the BBC, or public sector broadcasting more generally, to actually be?

At the moment, it seems to me, we're trapped in a political game which, in the long-run, is a no win game for the Left. We may have doubts about the Beeb but each time it is attacked we have to rally to its defense because the alternative seems to be simply kowtowing to Murdoch and the Mail.

The BBC strives for universality - just think what they try to do:

* Keep the Little Britain crowd (i.e. the consumers of offensive pap) happy;
* Satisfy the tastes of 'Middle England' for endless costume drama;
* Attract the Youtube generation back to TV through 'edgy'(god help us...) material;
* Slip the occasional world beating programme of genuine substance into the mix (if the Beeb was the Vatican I'm sure they would have canonised David Attenborough by now...);
* Plus, of course, to fight against CNN and the American networks on the news front (let's face it, there''s no worthwhile domestic competition outside the print media);
* Keep up their end in specialist coverage where they face a variety of niche rivals- for instance, Sky in terms of Sport, or the cartoon channels in terms of children's programming.

Oh - and also to run the most impressive website in the world.

It may be the most enduring and best loved symbol of Britain as a columnist in the Observer argues today - but, seriously now, if it didn't currently exist would anyone from the left , or anywhere else, propose creating such a structure?

So here are a couple of random thoughts about the shape of a possible future Beeb.

1.The BBC's news operation is its core - but it is especially poor at that field's idea fixee , 24 hr rolling news: BBC 24 is an embarrassment. Nor, because of a history of government bullying, is it quick at getting the news out - since the Kelly affair everything is checked three times before publication. Where it is really strong is in being authoritative, and in broadening the news into current affairs discussion and analysis. This much we should defend.

2. I do think it retains a cultural role - but one that should be nearer that of the Arts Council in stimulating and promoting cultural endeavor than as the overarching production house. This would also have to encompass the training of a sufficient cadre of cultural producers and technicians to allow the industry to thrive - which means it would still make some programmes, just fewer and better ones. & , again like the Arts Council, it should have a duty to ensure access for new and under represented kinds of work, as well as work of excellence.

Because I really don't think the Beeb can go on like it is for much longer, Ross & Brand or no Ross and Brand.

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