Dear Auntie, You Need to Lose Weight

Bobby SHEPHERD / 18h05 - 05 november 2017 / 0 comments

Dr John Grierson explains why the BBC has, quite frankly, lost it.

In a chequered career, I have stumbled in and out of the broadcasting world, and I mean world, including Britain, the USA, Canada and too many places elsewhere.

There was a time, when I lived abroad, that I strutted about telling everyone that BBC radio and TV was the best in the world. Not anymore. The overall standard of BBC broadcasting output has dropped every year, each year by a little more, until we now have no more than a rump of quality in the form of bits of Radio 3 and 4, bits of the Overseas Service, bits of an occasional evening on BBC2 and Sir David Attenborough – and everything else is eye and ear sugar sweeties, except for some sports coverage, and not much of that when the Beeb is consistently outbid by commercial channels.

In 2015 and 2016, I watched as the BBC worked the then British Culture Secretary from behind in the time leading up to Charter Renewal, having him, and then her, explain that the BBC’s real task is to produce as much garbage, in the form of “entertainment” as possible, as fast as possible. Of course, they did not actually say that – but that was the gist. And they explained why it would be essential, before long, to increase the licence tax (that’s what it is; forget any of the euphemisms which are used to disguise it as a “fee”). So when the Charter was settled, the BBC got away with it of course – again. Very little actually changed. The Octopus Empire Rules. By the way and very much in that context, W1A, a wonderfully acted and generally well put together series, is not comedy. It’s documentary. In the same way that Yes Minister and The Thick of It were.

But here’s the thing: many of the Beeb people who make the programmes are clever, hard-working, inventive, creative, dedicated, thoroughly decent and some of them make good stuff, but they work for an organisation which raises arrogance and dog-in-the-manger nastiness to an art form, while lowering standards as fast as their huge salaries rise. Dog in the manager examples: They squat on dozens and dozens of radio frequencies which they either do not use at all, or where they duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate exactly the same programming output, and no-one is able to do anything about it.

As for the licence tax, the BBC receives over three point seven billion pounds every year from the TV licence tax (and it will be growing). Writing and saying “three point seven billion” is too easy. Look hard at £3,700,000,000. Oh, and let’s not forget that on top of the licence tax income, the Beeb earns something close to £2 billion in commercial income. Not bad for an organisation that prides itself on being non-commercial, eh? So, just to remind you, that licence tax income of £3,700,000,000 means about £62 per year for each man woman and child in Britain. Everyone barring a handful of the really elderly has to pay the licence tax, just for having even one TV set in the front room, on pain of prison in the event of non-payment , and the BBC scurries about chasing maximum audiences as though their very existence and that huge amount of money depend on it.

Hang on. That’s just it, isn’t it? This is literally true. Perhaps the brain-washed-and-then-brain-damaged politicians who are responsible for renewing the BBC charter every 10 years or so, and who have to decide on the amount of licence tax we have to pay are being driven completely barking by accountants who insist on “value for money” – and value in this case means more audience, which means lower quality.........................

But back to 2016. While all that Charter reviewing was going on, and while the management of the BBC was showing everyone how prudent it is, and how cleverly it spends all that public money by sacking staff to cut costs, the Director General was given (gave himself?) that year, a pay rise from his miserable £580,000 per year to £620,000 (m-u-u-u-uch better) with others in senior management getting similar rises. The rationale, presented by the then BBC Trust Chairman, clearly outraged that anyone should question it, was that the BBC “lives in a marketplace and has to pay its top people what they would otherwise be able to command in the commercial sector”.

Such arrogance. Such balls. If the Director General and the entire top echelon of the BBC, together with every single overpaid presenter, were to resign en masse, there would be dozens, scores of equally competent and talented people gagging to take their places, and the BBC audiences would not be drastically affected.............

With money like that going out of the BBC each year, the Beeb feels it has to justify it by showing everyone how many million people watch or listen to it. The so-called public service BBC insists, in a country where there is commercial broadcasting (which does have to maximise audiences or die) that it should be allowed to do the same thing – drag in ever greater audience numbers. Quality is an occasional by-product.

The Beeb is far, far too big, and its sheer size has given it a sort of impregnability. Too big to fail. Too big to be reduced. So big that it frightens the living spit out of politicians of all stripes.

What’s to be done? And who is to do it? Simple enough. Take stuff away from the BBC and let the commercial broadcasting world have it – but let’s not have any nonsense about privatising the whole of the BBC.............

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Dr John Grierson – PhD in local and community radio studies; in his time a radio pioneer, manager, motivator, director, presenter, writer, actor, all over the world. Writer on any subject that catches his eye, and unapologetic ranter when he sees injustice, unfairness, greed, arrogance and sloppy, slack production in TV, radio and all other media. His contributions to are drawn from, or based on, items in his book “Righteous Rants for Thinkers”, available on Kindle.