11/06/2012

Stand Up, BBC!

It’s time for the BBC to stop apologising

The BBC finds itself in one of those moments that seem to occur every so often. Something they’ve said- or not said- has caused hundreds of people to complain. As a result they issue excuses and apologies and are generally made to look like a repentant giant. In this case, their coverage of the Jubilee river pageant is the issue de jour. This sprawling event lasted several hours but basically consisted of a lot of boats chugging up the Thames. Only a handful of these vessels contained members of the Royal Family or celebrities, the rest were occupied by people from all over the country who had sailed there, presumably setting off weeks earlier.


Now the thing is that boats are not the most interesting or inspiring thing to discuss so the BBC, probably sensing a huge outbreak of boredom across the UK, opted to talk to some of the people on the boats, to get `their story` in the time honoured tradition of the regional news “where you are”.  This approach has drawn heavy criticism from the public and the Twitterati, the tone of which is how it did not capture the importance of the event. It wasn’t solemn enough. Of course, had the Corporation rolled out the solemnity they would no doubt have been criticised for that instead.

What this again demonstrates is how the BBC is expected to please everyone which, as we know, is impossible. No company and certainly no entertainer have ever done it. What they should do when covering public events is get the spirit of what is happening - if these critics found the pageant coverage too parochial and casual then that is because it was that sort of event. Some have said the BBC presenters did not describe the ships- well we could see them on screen so why would they? The situation worsened when it seemed nobody at the Corporation was at hand to respond to these accusations. It seems unfair to criticise the BBC for coverage of an event that is probably only rivalled in boredom stakes by live golf. No doubt they will have to repent – it is already being said that one of the potential Director General candidates who helmed the coverage has ruined their chance of the job.

The BBC sailing into trouble again?
What it does show is how the BBC’s artistic freedom is being slowly muzzled – and how the attacks on it are being fanned by the Murdoch dominated press in whose interest of course it would be for the BBC to lose its public service broadcasting mantle and be forced to compete with everyone else. It is a shame that neither Conservative or Labour governments seem prepared to support the BBC- each has accused it of favouring the other which rather suggests it supports neither. The BBC has largely resisted the tabloidisation of news coverage which can be found over on ITV for example. Try watching both their news bulletins on the same evening and you’ll see a marked difference in tone which is akin to the difference between someone talking to you and someone shouting at you.

The BBC should defend its programme making more robustly. While not ignoring criticisms, it should remember that a few hundred people represent a miniscule fraction of their viewers and that the only reasons these stories seem to become more important is because the rest of the media delight in giving them far more attention than they deserve. Do we ever hear about criticism of Sky? Or of ITV? They probably get just as many; and in Sky’s case that is a higher fraction of its smaller audience. 

The BBC has done enough humility, now is the time for it to stand up for its artistic decisions and if it does people will respect it more.



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