Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

In Defence of the BBC

In Opinion on April 12, 2015 at 4:15 PM

I sometimes cast my mind forward to a not-too-distant future in which the BBC is no more, or at least drastically cut, following criticisms of the cost, ‘bias’ and it ‘not being a suitable broadcaster for our multimedia age’. I reckon there would be national mourning; paroxysms of nostalgia similar to the reactions of Ceefax ending and HMV closing (though the music retailer, to my pleasant surprise, continues to stay open). Call it misty-eyed sentimentalism if you will, but I think there’s something in this.

The reaction itself proves there’s still an affection for such things, even if there are more straightforwardly rational alternatives – the internet to Ceefax, Amazon and iTunes to HMV and arguably Neflix and Youtube et al to the BBC. But humans are not robots. In an age with so many different things competing for our attention on screens, there’s a good case for television that brings people together. People still remember where they were and who they were with for landmark televisual events like when England won the World Cup, Live Aid and Who Shot Jr/Phil Mitchell.

Of course, this would not be totally destroyed if the BBC went. But I think there’s a risk, in creating better choice for people, of losing that shared cultural conversation, even creating a more ‘atomised’ society, which many – on the left and right – complain about. Ask yourself, does your nan share your love of Breaking Bad? Probably not. But would you be able to bond over your love for it if it was on BBC? Maybe. (Game of Thrones is probably a bit unlikely, but who knows…) And I bet there’d be a lot more arguments between couples if there wasn’t the default option of ‘whatever shit’s on TV’. If you choose to watch some obscure documentary on Netflix or a documentary on quantum physics on BBC4, you stick your neck out that your partner/friends/flatmates watching will enjoy it. Put on BBC and it’s a no lose – if it’s good, you’ve got good taste; if not, it’s just that it was on anyway and you can talk over it or change channel. Anyway, as Barry Schwartz has shown, too much choice can actually lead to less happiness over the choice, as people fixate over the other possibilities and consider if the grass would be greener – like how you can forever browse Netflix looking for something better. I’m not arguing for a cultural North Korea, but surely there’s a happy medium between this and each member of the family in the living room watching different screens.

…All of which is why I get annoyed at the constant barrage at criticism constantly directed at the BBC. The most recent example was the reaction to Culture, Media and Sport select committee findings, which found the broadcaster should be “braver”, stop trying to do something for everyone and that the licence fee should be scrapped and replaced with a ‘broadcasting levy’ on all homes. This produced a frothing reaction from the right wing press, claiming any mandatory fees should be scrapped. It’s a strangely paradoxical reaction from papers that take such pride in instilling the shared customs of a ‘traditional British’ way of life. I suppose they would counter that the BBC no longer promotes ‘British’ values, but then surely it would make sense to call for specific reforms, not a complete overhaul, and make criticism more measured and constructive than this, from the Mail: “Chaotic… buck-passing… empire-building… monstrously bureaucratic… anti-competitive… recklessly wasteful of public money… refusing to admit mistakes as it lurches from crisis to crisis…” (Because, of course, The Mail is not ’empire-building’…)

But it’s not just attacked from the right. ‘BBC too right wing’ gets 2.68 million Google hits. ‘BBC too left wing’ gets 2.05 million. It’s far from an exact science – for starters, maybe this acid test is inherently skewed towards the young because it’s on the internet, and this might mean the study is skewed towards left denouncing right. Regardless, I merely wish to prove how much controversy it causes on both sides (in addition to people who obviously have nothing better to do in their lives than complain to Ofcom because someone said ‘bastard’ once before the watershed or showed a bit too much cleavage).

But ‘neutrality’ is such a hard, if not impossible, thing to achieve, as the debate itself over the BBC’s bias proves. People often complain about papers’ bias even though, as private entities not paid for by the taxpayer, there’s no particular need for papers to be impartial. (That’s even if they are determined by mere political considerations, rather than more sinister commercial ones, as Peter Oborne revealed about his former employer The Daily Telegraph in his resignation letter, in regard to the paper’s limited coverage of the tax scandal at HSBC, one of its biggest advertising clients.)

If the main criticism of the BBC were the whole principle of it – that it’s not (really) chosen, not ‘free media’ – then I’d understand, if not agree. No one wants to live in a cultural North Korea and, ridiculous as the comparison is in extent, the BBC is a state broadcaster. And I concede that the BBC does run at a distinct commercial advantage to other media outlets because of its funding means it has a far better knowledge of its short and long-term budget than many of its rivals, in turn meaning it can plan better than rivals.

However, I think this has its advantages. It’s a common criticism of journalism, and one made brilliantly by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, that cost-cutting and naked profit-chasing, which is the BBC is somewhat protected against, is corrupting the once reputable practice. And it allows the BBC to make ambitious, groundbreaking, but very expensive work like Planet Earth and Life; having cameramen, for example, wait in the middle of fucking Arctic nowhere for four weeks waiting for a mother polar bear and its cubs.

And it’s not just that by any means. Us Brits have probably become inured to the BBC, but it’s worth pointing out how much the world fucking loves it (or conversely, how shit TV can be abroad). As revealed by The Guardian in February, the international sales arm of the BBC now claims the corporation is the largest producer of television outside Hollywood, and this year it has 2,800 hours of shows to sell. Also, it’s estimated that British TV exports for 2013-14 were valued at £1.28bn.

Thing is, the structure of the BBC doesn’t seem to be the common complaint – based on the special pleading and bleating from all corners, it seems a lot people want a universal service, but one tailored just for them and their common sense views. People of all political persuasions naturally locate the elusive ‘centre-ground’ closer to them than it probably is, hence the shitstorm of the ‘BBC is too [insert chosen bete noire here – right/left/imperial/multicultural/’warmist’/climate denier etc etc].

The reason this annoys me so much is that this atmosphere can serve as a straitjacket to good journalism and broadcasting. Naturally some news and topics are more likely to lead to a particular political stance, but news, or more pretentiously truth, should be sought wherever it is, not on what people happen to think. As such I’m not claiming the Beeb is perfectly impartial (though pretty good), but how could it be?! It’s surprising to me as it is how the Beeb still produces hard-hitting news, like the HSBC tax avoidance exposé.

And it seems it was ever thus. I recently stumbled across an archive piece in the New Statesman from E.L.Forster defending the BBC in 1931 against similar complaints of bias on various sides. He wrote: “Perhaps we grumbled too often. If we did, Nemesis has descended, bringing all the powers of darkness in her train. For the easy days are over, brightness falls from the air, and the conflict has begun. The BBC, because of its success and growing importance, is being constantly attacked, in the pulpit, in Parliament, in the Press, and the attack is on new and dangerous lines. The aim is suppression. When suppression has been achieved, control may be attempted, but suppression is the immediate objective. The cry is not for fuller programmes but for feebler.”

It’s always hard to argue for the status quo in the face of various angry complaints, and easier to think the grass is greener. But I think those enjoy the BBC need to stick up for it amid the loud noises from all sides, attempting to strangle this great British institution, with politicking and death by a thousand cuts, into boring, timid submission.

Spare a Thought For the Pundits This Christmas

In Satire on December 24, 2011 at 4:02 PM

BBC executives are fearing for the health of their football pundits over this festive period, in which there are approximately 7,989 games of top-flight British football.

After reading reports from the Institute for Mental-ness Studies,  they believe Hansen, Motty, Lineker and co.’s mental states could seriously deteriorate with the constant football scrutiny (though they claim the effect to Shearer will be negligible because there isn’t that much going on upstairs with him at the best of times).

Things are already quite drastic. After interviewing Hansen’s family, we found that last year he only sat down at the table for Christmas Dinner for 20 minutes, before walking away in disgust at the shocking defensive line of the pigs in blankets.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: “The lads have already worked very hard all season, but the Christmas period is particularly intense.”

“We fear that one analysis of one more positional error from Armand Traore could cause Hansen’s head to explode from what we have been reliably told is ‘over-football-itis’.”

“And even if we do weather the storm this Christmas, there is the prospect of considerable long-term damage. We have already heard a few reports about Mark Lawrenson imploring ducks in his local park to put a name on the bread crumbs he throws to them. What next?! Will Motty end up holed up in a mental asylum, detailing to anyone within earshot West Brom’s impressive record from set pieces in the late 00s?”.

Mr. Thompson added that even when they brought in psychologists to spell out the dangers to the pundits, and the consequent need for rest this festive period, the punditry team would hear not a word of it, remaining resolutely glued to their sofas, monitors and stats machines.

“So we ask you, dear viewers, to spare a thought for our pundits this Christmas. Maybe even give the footy a break, even if it means putting up with your nan’s hilariously inaccurate Charade dramatics, so our lads don’t feel such a compulsion to sate the nation’s insatiable football appetite,” he added.

“The least we ask is that football fans up and down the country cut our lads some slack by avoiding criticising analysis, insinuations on Shearer’s simpleness and comparisons between the shape of Lineker’s head and the FA Cup. For, in sacrificing their mental health for our viewing pleasure, they are brave, selfless men.”

Joel Durston

In Praise of ‘Apprenticisms’

In Culture, Satire on June 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM

So, another impending summer..and with it, as sure as death and taxes, a new series of The Apprentice. The 7th in fact, of what is, for better or for worse, becoming a British institution, as weekly, millions react with an intoxicating maelstrom of despair, desire, dislike, lust, laughs, even occasional respect, to the latest incumbents fawning, fighting and fabricating their way into the affections of the self-righteous “Lord”, Alan.

The first episode had the two teams of supposed recession-rescuers essentially shoving into the faces of unwitting Londoners extortionately-priced food they had produced with the £250 given to them by “Lord” (I refuse to not parenthesise) Alan. As is the norm with The Apprentice, this task itself provided much televisual gold with many eminently quotable catchphrases on exhibit. For example, Edward’s inane (and often inappropriate) endlessly repeated “rolling with punches” and his boardroom tautology so watertight it could be used as an example of the concept to budding logicians: “when I was producing, it was production”. Though the latter quote undeniably demonstrated the logic of ‘Team Logic’, his zealous over-spending on produce did not, and represented a ridiculous over-compensation for being in his words a mere “humble accountant”  and “the youngest AND smallest in the team”.

But before this, there was The Apprentice equivalent of the peacock pluming its feathers as the contestants indulged in the seemingly customary braggadocio, which has brought so many classic TV sound bites in recent years such as one-of-a-kind Stuart Baggs’ “everything I touch turns to SOLD”.

This year was no different, with Helen Milligan claiming “social life, friends, family…they mean nothing to me” and, pick of the bunch, Melody Hossaini declaring: “don’t tell me ‘the sky’s the limit’ when there’s footprints on the moon”. This was in addition to her working “with an understanding that there is..ACTUALLY (who’d av thunk it?!) a purpose greater than (herself)” and being “trained by Al Gore and personally taught by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama”. Naturally.

It got me pondering what brilliant nonsense could come next. So I came up with a few ‘Apprentic e-isms’ of my own. Feel free to join in at home, folks. Turns outs it’s actually quite fun getting into the ‘twat’ mindset….


A few rather standard ones, perhaps already consigned to the budding apprentice’s/twat’s proverbial dustbin:

“Audacity is my middle name.”

“I ALWAYS make sure I get my five a day: aspiration, assertion, audacity, achievement, alpha-male status.”

And basically any sentence of this ‘I am a champion’ American Football battle-cry of speech, which is so ‘Hollywood’ in its style, I don’t know whether to laugh or roar: . For example: “I do not understand when things go wrong. I do not understand mistakes. But I do understand victory and never surrendering!”


A few where the imagined apprentice/twat has actually managed to step outside of their own self-absorbed bubble for just long enough to consume some pop culture…only for it to confirm their supposed brilliance and subsequently return to their narcissism:

“If I’d have been in any way connected to the production of Jerry Maguire film, it probably wouldn’t have got made ‘cos I would have shown Rod Tidwell the money long ago.”

“Don’t tell me ‘the sky’s the limit’ when Emile Heskey has played for England 62 times”.

“If I’d have been Ian Brown, The Stone Roses would never have released I wanna be adored ‘cos I’ve always been adored, even in the womb”.

“I’ve got so much drive I make the Duracell Bunny look narcoleptic.” (Risque, but then why should apprentices care about the feelings of anybody but themselves?!)


A few where the hypothetical apprentice/twat has, to be fair to him/her, displayed a dextrous grasp of the nuances of the English language. To similarly cheesy effect, though:

“The only difference between ‘try’ and ‘triumph’ is a bit of ‘OOOOMPH.”

“I’m not a businessman…I’m a business…, man.” (O.K, as much as I’d like to, I admit I can’t take credit for those two, the former being from a friend, the latter; a Jay-Z line).


A couple where the apprentice/twat has, strangely, considered for a second at least the possibility that someone other than him/herself is, in fact, God and subsequently glanced at some Theology, albeit with spurious appropriation:

“I’m not just the best businesswoman in this world…I’m the best businesswoman in ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS”.

“In all honesty, I don’t really see the need for Christianity because, clearly, I am all three faces of everything great: entrepreneur, salesman and marketer, yet still, just one entity…MIKE!”


And, my favourite of all, which I will be sure to use just for shits and giggles (unless, god forbid, I get eaten up by the proverbial ‘man’) in the extremely unlikely event of me being on The Apprentice:

“I inhale mediocrity, excrete worthlessness, exude purpose and exhale brilliance”.

Quite proud of that, if I say so myself. Maybe I would make a decent apprentice. Or at least I could walk the proverbial walk…