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Thursday, May 26, 2005

 

24-hour bollocks

I am a fan of the BBC but not an uncritical one. So I was horrified to read in Wednesday's Guardian a report that the venerable BBC World Service is to be turned into a "24-hour rolling news service".

I cannot claim to be a regular listener but do occasionally hear it in the middle of the night, when the Radio 4 frequency broadcasts the World Service. I find the surreal mix of programmes curiously reassuring and very British.

The event that prompted the Guardian article is the BBC's decision to axe the popular soap opera
Westway with effect from October. Since this drama is produced on the cheap, it is difficult to see how any consequent savings are to benefit the listener.

The first question one must ask is, does the world really need another 24-hour rolling news service? I would argue that it doesn't need any in the first place. The output of these stations is mostly fatuous, since there is rarely enough real news to go round. Hence the tendency of these stations to fill their surplus air time with idle speculation or coverage of assorted PR stunts. (See my earlier postings regarding coverage of the
tsunami and the Pope's death).

An important part of the BBC's function is to supply programmes that are distinctive, not to leap aboard every passing cultural bandwagon. The Guardian report asks,

... when did this daft idea that the BBC has to win at everything take hold? It is demeaning to watch something once so chaotically diverse try to squeeze itself into a shape defined by others.

Surely we give money to the BBC so it doesn't have to enter the same frantic and sweaty games as everybody else, and so it can balloon off in new and interesting directions. The purpose of the BBC, I always assumed, was to nurture the wildest plants in our society and to tidy, with a gentle but sure hand, the most hidden corners in our room. Both functions were served by Westway. Why is it letting it go?
The BBC's existing mediocre 24-hour TV news service BBC News 24 should have taught the BBC's management that quantity is no substitute for quality. I would rather the BBC focused on producing the occasional insightful current affairs programme instead of the relentless superficiality of 'rolling news'.

The BBC's behaviour also illustrates a wider malaise in society. The BBC's management is infected by the same disease that is endemic in both private and public sector managements. As the Guardian's report states,

What is going on at the BBC? Is it anything more substantial than a bit of new-management macho Thatcherite posturing, tricked out by some rightwing commentators into a coherent policy?
Ostentatious displays of being 'tough' do not amount to good management or leadership. In this instance, such random acts of toughness are intended to impress the government in order to win renewal of the BBC's charter. The government could end this nonsense now by telling the BBC management that it is not impressed.

Comments:
I'm not sure why the Beeb does need another rolling news service at all - the World Service provides news every half-hour in any case and if someone's that desperate for rolling news then there's always BBC World.

The BBC World Service can be very informative at 2am or 3am in the morning. ;)
 
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