5 March 2010

Auntie's Duty

Dear Auntie, 6 Music, Secretary of State for Culture:

What are you thinking of, talking of axing 6 Music? It’s a now regrettably-lonely example of something the beeb used to do so well: avant garde, trend-setting production and broadcasting. Everyone who listens to 6 Music raves about its quality. Every new young radio producer wants to work there. Does that mean nothing to you?

Despite simply being a damn good station, 6 Music represents an important soundboard for unsigned UK bands; it’s therefore a crucial component of the UK’s cultural fabric. It’s exactly the sort of thing the licence fee should be used for. It represents a valid investment in the nation’s cultural future. Instead of cutting it out, why not consider giving it justice, offer it the position it deserves? Don’t confine it to internet radio and digital TV, broadcast it too (I know it’s on DAB, but …). Get in inside people’s cars. Advertise it. Get it promoted at music events. Treat it as it deserves.

Thinking about where the BBC puts its money, I’ve had a little look at the current portfolio of productions, and it leaves me wondering why cutbacks should be aimed at such an original medium as 6 Music. Inspecting today’s availability on iPlayer for instance, I can’t help wondering why there are 27 items available under ‘antiques’. Is the cultural importance of antique trading so important in the UK to justify this important an investment in such a narrow field? Or why, for example, does the BBC insist on contributing to the incessant drivel of low quality house-moving boregrams with a commitment to a tenth series of ‘To buy or not to buy’? Everybody knows there is only one decent property program in the UK, and that’s Grand Designs, made by Channel 4. Given its unique, unfettered funding, if the BBC makes anything, it should make the best or not bother at all. 6 Music, unlike ‘To buy or not to buy’, is an example of the BBC at its best. Taking it offline is exactly contrary to the whole point of the BBC.

It is not true that there is a general resentment in the UK about paying the license fee. This is a politicised myth peddled by those who have vested interests in curtailing nationally-funded broadcasting. It’s indistinguishable from those that decry the NHS, despite it being one of the world’s most cost effective and efficient health systems. Britons overall support the license fee, as they are proud of the world dominance in quality broadcasting their investment entails. Doing things like axing 6 may well in the end start them wondering. Is that what’s afoot?

Of notable importance, as has been highlighted with talk of paypackets of Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Clarkson et al, is use of the license fee to excessively remunerate those whose justification may be hard to comprehend, not least that of management too. The BBC funds are public money and as such the BBC should publish all personnel costs, then the fee payers themselves can judge how well they think funds are being allocated.

Any argument for cutting BBC 6 on listener figures, is weak. It’s pretty indistinguishable from BBC 3 and besides being digital only it’s not fair to compare it to the likes of Radio 1. Going down this road highlights another important conceptual problem with the current BBC management. The raison d’être of a nationally-funded broadcaster is that it has the editorial liberty to invest in tomorrow’s culture, freed from the short-termist shackles of other advertising-funded producers. In paying for the BBC, we assign it a duty to expand our media sphere of experience. This means behaving in pioneering and different ways, exactly as for 6; cutting 6 is therefore a grave dereliction of this duty.

The BBC should not overconcentrate on ratings. Of course Auntie shouldn’t make anything that hardly anyone wants; but this is far from the truth with 6 Music. The value of the license fee to the BBC, to our entire cultural domestic product, is that it can invest in the ratings distribution of the future and not be imprisoned by that of yesterday. Expanding our media exposure with novel culture, impartial news and the cutting edge of all academia sometimes requires a courageous gamble on unprecedented or even eccentric productions. One thing about 6 Music is exactly that, it is brave.

1 comment:

contented_andy said...

see if you can spot the tiny boxes that represent 6 Music and Asian Network ... absurd gesture by the BBC at reducing expenditure ...

bbc budget graphic