Sunday, 7 March 2010

Great article by David Mitchell on the BBC

I expect that anyone reading this blog probably saw it already, but David Mitchell does a nice job of idenifying the current threat to the BBC and outlining why we should fight to keep it.

It seems obvious to me that Britain's exceptional cultural presence is sustained in a large part by the BBC in many indirect ways. They employ a large number of technicians and creators across media creating a pool of talent from which independent broadcasters draw for their own operations. BBC radio's creates an atmosphere that supports genuinely great music as opposed to the commercial demands of heavily cross-marketed chart heavy weights. Active arts coverage generally promotes the fine arts to many who wouldn't otherwise have access to even know these things exist.

Most importantly you just have to look at the output. Now, critics will point to BBC 3 or Total Wipeout as evidence that BBC spews as bigger torrent of nonsense into the country's living rooms as anywhere else, but don't jusge them by the worst, judge them by the best. Horizon, Newswipe/Screenwipe/Gameswipe, the documentaries of Adam Curtis, the Rock/Pop/Blue/Jazz/Folk/Metal Britannia strand, great comedy like Outnumbered, That Mitchell & Webb Look and Bellamy's People (which both started on comedy lab that is BBC 4) and a whole ton of worthy stuff that is of no interest to me whatsoever but passions of the great British public.

And that's just TV. Across platforms the BBC represents the leading edge of content and technical services. It's a high water mark that keeps the commercial players standards up. Why else would Channel 4 exist - the BBC creates an audience for this programming, and Channel 4 aims to capture some of it. Channel 4 has stuggled to match BBCs quality, and has resorted to cheap time filler programming like Big Brother, but they still put out high quality dramas and documentaries from time to time.

ITV is suffering, of course, and the reason for that is simply expressed: they are crap. They are not deliberately crap, I'm sure a lot of very talented people work to gert those shows out, but the formats they depend on game shows, anodyne "variety" shows, cheap melodrama - are inherently crap. Viewers endured them for many years because there was no choice: if the only alternatives were Match of the Day or War & Peace on the BBC, a lot of people tuned in for The Golden Shot in the name of brain numbing post-work zone out.

Nowadays viewers don't have to put up with that. At worst, there'll be a repeat of Last of the Summer Wine or an old episode of The Saint with Roger Moore, and of course, I don't have to describe the infinite temptations that come with DVD players, watch on demand, gaming consoles, and the internet.

Commercial broadcast TV channels are faced with a stark choice: raise standards or cut the costs. ITV has taken the Iceland option, stack em high and sell em cheap. They're not entirely without enterprise - they coin it in from viewer phone ins, for example - but in search of a niche they have opted for ultra-cheap crappy programming in a bid to make the sums add up.

Putting a cramp on the BBC will represent an inevitable decay in the cultural life of the country. We punch well above our weight in this sectopr, and while some of that is the benefit of an anglophone culture that latches easily onto the enormous US consumer market, the rest is entirely the result of a directly funded media that works for viewers instead of advertisers.

It's a uniquely British thing, slightly imperious and paternalistic, but ultimately painfully aware of its responsibilities to the diverse population that it serves.

And, most importantly, no ads.

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