Robin Brown

Doing journalism. Teaching journalism.

Archive for the ‘bbc’ tag

Full list of BBC websites to close

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The following BBC sub-sites and directories are due to close as part of Erik Huggers review:

While this may seem rather silly and come across as fairly scathing of the BBC, I think the broadcaster does a remarkable job and wish it a long and healthy life.

But the list of BBC websites to be closed makes it clear that there’s a bizarre lack of direction to a lot of the BBC’s online resources and overall strategy.

Why else would there be top-level directories for /thesummerofbritishfilm, whatever that is, or /abolition?

What are /tvmoments? Was a season on what it’s like to be white in Britain worth the url

And there are some peculiar wide-ranging sub-directories like /chinesefoodmadeeasy and /zombies and /britain that smack of the land-grab instincts of the BBC’s digital empire.

In fairness, any self-respecting web ed would have been packing a traffic-heavy site like – that can wield enormous Page Rank – with top-level directories to hoover up traffic everywhere.

But that’s exactly what the BBC cannot afford to do – with hungry, worried commercial rivals looking jealously at the Beeb’s enormous online clout and crying foul.

While it’s sensible to rationalise these sprawling empires into a more straightforward navigational – and organisational – structure, the plans for BBC Online do not seem to recognise the value of some areas, and how they help fulfil the BBC remit, rather than detract from it.

Why, for example, should 6Music or Radio7 not have their own websites? And what’s wrong with the BBC having pages and sections for programmes it makes? Certainly they need to be correctly classified, but why give up web traffic for queries on BBC programmes to commercial rivals?

Why shouldn’t local sites use non-news content? Who else does (apart from SevenStreets in Liverpool, obv) beyond the piecemeal press-release based local newspapers? Why should the BBC generate 22 million external referrals a year? The BBC doesn’t advertise what’s on on ITV or Sky1 on its schedules.

Beyond the that, disposing of the Douglas Adams memorial h2g2 is sad. Certainly, it’s hard to see why the BBC should own it. But the BBC is a fairly bonkers organisation, why shouldn’t it? Little details like that are what makes the BBC the BBC – a (de facto) state organisation that engenders enormous trust and fondness among Brits.

The BBC certainly seems to have its problems, and it needs to be very careful of expanding into areas where it will clash directly with commercial rivals (that’s you, Lonely Planet). Then again, austerity and cuts for their own sake seem to be de rigeur these days.

Maybe the Beeb needs to look up

Written by Robin Brown

January 25th, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Media

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The first real casualty of the election is… Sky

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Seriously, what is it with Sky at the moment? While the press has, on the whole, thrown a bit of a wobbler because it didn’t get its own way over Cameron during this election, the broadcast media – Sky specifically – has suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown.

I think this is a crisis of confidence and direction on the Beeb, ITN and Sky, as they increasingly search for lines that are engaging to viewers yet don’t break any rules over impartiality.

As I’ve outlined before, I don’t believe the media really has an idea of how to do political reporting anymore, unless it can find hooks that it believes it needs to maintain the interest of the idiot population.

As has been evident throughout, the UK’s population has been far from passive – or idiotic – in the election; with Twitter protests, protests against the media and protests against Sky specifically, following Kay Burley’s bizarre outburst against David Babbs for daring to engage in his democratic right to protest.

For my money, Burley is simply an idiot who has no place anywhere near political reporting, and I don’t have much time for Adam Boulton either.

However, Boulton does have the right pedigree and seems to be generally respected as a political correspondent – until today.

Boulton absolutely lost it in an interview with Alastair Campbell today, who gently teased Boulton in the way that only he and Peter Mandelson truly can, over Boulton being secretly angry that Cameron may find his anointed path to Number 10 blocked by a brilliant bit of political chicanery by Gordon Brown.

Campbell is voicing what has been whispered less and stated openly more and more during the election campaign – that Sky’s coverage has been less than impartial.

Perhaps that’s what touched a nerve with Boulton, though I personally have found Nick Robinson’s punditry more and more intriguing during the election. Campbell was again present in a live round table – with David Steel, Huw Edwards and Andrew Adonis – responding to the news of Brown’s resignation hit the airwaves today and, again, seemed to fluster Robinson.

So, what is it? The media suddenly angry that their previously-unchallenged position as interlocutors is threatened by social media and pressure groups? Or the cracks showing in the political dead bat of political correspondents as the situation becomes more volatile? Or is it evidence that some in the broadcast media, Sky specifically, are testing the waters of the UK’s objectivity rules, perhaps in preparation for a more Fox News-like controversial stance on politics?

I’m not sure. I do sense that Sky may attempt a more entertainment-news approach in the future that may test the barriers of what Ofcom deems acceptable. And I do sense that a few correspondents, Boulton most obviously, have found it hard to disguise their true feelings.

But I suspect it’s more a case of political correspondents finding it tough to keep up with the twists and turns of a genuinely incredible campaign, and trying to keep pace with social media, in tandem with the demands of 24-hour rolling news.

So, Sky cracks first. And maybe there’s not a grand conspiracy to get Cameron into Number 10, maybe it’s just a case of folding under the pressure. Boulon certainly seems to be feeling it at the moment

Apart from the shrieking Burley. I think, more prosaically, she’s a fool.

NB. Seems Boulton nearly lost it again with Ben Bradshaw

EDITED TO ADD: has a good account of Campbell’s run-in with Boulton, which makes the Sky correspondent’s behaviour seem even more bizarre. This bit is particularly good:

Why hasn’t he had a Cabinet meeting before making this offer?
He is about to have a Cabinet meeting now.
Yes, but now he has made the offer, what can the Cabinet do, why haven’t you had a meeting with the parliamentary Labour party like the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have had?
He’s having one tomorrow, he’s having one tomorrow.
Gentlemen, gentlemen.
In other words it’s you, totally unelected have plotted this with …
Yes. You are happiest speaking about him …
That’s because the Ministers are going to a Cabinet meeting …
He has got a parliamentary party, you’re the one that cooked it up, you’re the one that’s cooked it up with Peter Mandelson.
Oh my God, unbelievable. Adam, calm down.
Gentlemen, gentlemen, let this debate carry on later. Let’s just remind you that Gordon Brown said a few minutes ago…
I actually care about this country.
You think I don’t care about it, you think I don’t care about it.
I don’t think the evidence is there.

Campbell’s predictably amusing response, later posted on his blog:

Adam gets very touchy at any suggestion that he is anything other than an independent, hugely respected, totally impartial and very important journalist whose personal views never see the light of day, and who works for an organisation that is a superior form of public service than anything the BBC can deliver.

Wot will win the 2010 election?

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There’s been something awful about this election, beyond the stuff that’s usually awful about elections.

Alongside how utterly hopeless the media at large have been in actually reporting the issues – as opposed to some things David Cameron has said, some suits Nick Clegg has worn and some mistakes Gordon Brown has made – there’s been the most naked display of vested interests for nearly 20 years.

The likes of The Mail and The Express adopt frothingly bigoted political lines because it’s what helps them sell papers, and it reflects the unpleasant ideologies of their respective owners.

The Torygraph backs the Conservatives because it’s read mainly by retired Brigadiers who remember the Boer War. The Star… well, who gives a flying one what the Star thinks eh?

As for The Sun and The Times, well, they back whoever proprietor Rupert Murdoch tells them to back, based on various deals with whichever party he reckons will win the election and deliver the goods.

This time around it’s barely even a secret that Murdoch, or rather his son James, wants to open a new front against the BBC, and has promised David Cameron his backing in exchange for crippling the Beeb.

The Sun always makes a big deal of wanting to look like its support is the deciding factor in an election campaign, but in reality Murdoch backs whoever he calculates is most likely to win.

In years gone by, back to 1997 and throughout the 80s, this was fairly easy to predict. The only recent blip was 1992, where the Sun pulled out all of the stops to virtually suggest that Neil Kinnock was insane.

‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It,’ gloated the Scum, so we know who to thanks for the following five years of the dross from John Major’s crumbling government.

’92 is an election regularly debated by students of psephology – a smart word for voting behaviour – because all the polls suggested that Labour would win. Could it have been the rabidly hostile Tory press than won it for Major? Tough to say, but I’ve never been in doubt as to the potential power of the media in politics.

One need only look at the last 18 months of absolute slating Gordon Brown – like Major, a decent man – has endured from the Sun, Mail and Telegraph; the results of which are that most people in the country now despise him without actually knowing why.

Anyway, 2010 should provide another clue as to the power of the media in elections because, having backed Cameron, the Murdoch press now faces the possibility of their man not actually winning. What will that do for the Sun’s habit of picking a winner? Or Murdoch’s latest ambitions?

The palpable desperation emanating from the front pages of the Sun recently has been almost pitiful, culminating in today’s risible front cover where Simon F’in Cowell appears to give his support to Cameron.

Delve inside the paper (if you can bear to) and you’ll find article after article telling us how much Sun readers love Cameron, and how a hung parliament will mean that Britain will fall into a volcano. Except, that’s not what Sun readers voting in polls on the online version have been saying.

Malcolm Coles has shown as much with some number-crunching on Sun polls, which show that its readers believe that Clegg won the third debate; Sun readers aren’t fussed about a hung parliament; and that a poll apparently showing Mums to be swinging behind Cameron shows nothing of the sort.

The Sun has gone into Cameron overdrive, barely stopping short of suggesting that WebCameron’s cock is bigger than Brown’s and Clegg’s put together, and offering a kind of non-stop tabloid blowjob to the Photoshopped Tory leader.

The rise of Clegg has also sent shivers down the spine at News International, so a full-scale assault was subsequently launched on the Lib Dems.

Unlike the US, where Fox News is basically a propaganda arm for the lunatic US right wing, the UK broadcast media is bound by strict rules of impartiality. Bad news for Murdoch Junior, who wants to extend Sky into a kind of Death Star of the media.

But this election campaign has brought the first whispers that Sky’s news coverage has not appeared to be quite as straight down the line as it should. And David Cameron has appeared to suggest that broadcasting regulations may need an overhaul. What can it all mean?

People have told me that Murdoch Senior is actually fairly left-of-centre, as far as his personal politics are concerned. What’s more he’s fairly friendly with Brown, and hit it off big style with Tony.

But Murdoch doesn’t let politics get in the way of business, and having been persuaded by son James to back Cameron, has had to throw the combined News International weight behind Cameron and the Tories.

What will happen? For the first time since 1992 I have no idea, as far as the election goes. As for the press, it’s been fascinating to see the Sun frantically attempting to shore up its man, knowing that its reputation is at stake. Indeed, the FT suggests that the Sun’s backing for Cameron has had the opposite effect.

A defeat for Cameron may mean that the rise of multimedia and the web has neutered the power of the papers in this regard, and with it the power of print media barons.

A win could open up a new front in partisan media, via Sky News and the humbling of the BBC, because Murdoch’s help won’t come without strings. Then, maybe, it won’t be the Sun wot wins it in the future, but the Sky.

Everyone hates Kelvin

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There’s unreasoning hate and there’s reasoning hate. I have an unreasoning hatred of lots of people, who are probably very nice people. If I ever met them I’d probably be nice to them

But there are a dozen reasons to genuinely hate Kevin Mackenzie, even if it’s just his horrible pudgy face.

I was reminded of this fact last night when watching Mackenzie’s love-in with Paxo and a couple of other media twonks.

Dawn Airey, as it goes, nearly hit on a good point, but the whole thing was overwhelmed by Mackenzie’s depressing luv-a-duck brand of obnoxious ‘straight talk’, which Paxman dutifully chuckled at.

If the whole thing moved the debate on the BBC’s modern role in a multi-platform media age I missed it, and after sitting through Mark Thompson’s execrable performance I was forced to endure this shouting gobshite trotting out his predictable News International line that we’re apparently supposed to think is funny.

Anyway, since I was on Twitter at the time I turned to the Omnipithium (i prefer Omnipithium to Twitterverse) to see what the consensus was.

Admittedly social media types are not largely representative of the general public, but in this case I’d largely like to believe that it was. I don’t think I’ve missed any out in the hour-or-so’s worth of comments, lest anyone accuse me of being selective.

What it shows is that there are genuine reasons to hate Kelvin, but you don’t really need one.

Written by Robin Brown

March 3rd, 2010 at 9:22 am

Bums on seats – 6Music’s threatened demise shows the BBC doesn’t know what it’s for any more

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The BBC has been worrying me for a while now, like a once-treasured friend who’s getting mixed up in some bad stuff.

For Strictly Ballroom Come Celebrity RollerBlading see crack. For the Lonely Planet purchase see scratch cards. Megamillions for Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton is a maxed-out credit card.

But, now an again, there’s flashes of the old friend you remember. The Winter Olympics, Life, Doctor Who, Newswipe, Adam and Joe on 6Music.

The BBC is schizophrenic, it simply doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do any more, so it does everything. It knows it needs to lead the UK’s digital revolution, but doesn’t understand where its public sector remit ends and commercialisation begins; it knows it needs to cater for mass audiences, but doesn’t know where to draw the line; it knows it needs to maximise revenues, but doesn’t grasp that it can’t do this to the detriment of other publishing businesses.

The BBC has expanded without thought or reason. It seems unlikely that any one person can realistically control its growth or expansion into virgin territories. 20 years ago it constituted two national TV stations and four national radio stations. Now, who knows?

I’ve lost count of the radio stations, and the television stations. The website’s size is staggering and awesome. To navigate it at random must be like wandering around Television Centre’s bowels, a surprise around every door.

The Beeb’s commercial activities worry me, because they undermine its remit and provide fodder for its many enemies – ideological and commercial – to attack with. And with some justification.

Semi-automomous franchises like Top Gear bemuse me. They worry commercial outfits. It’s easy to see why.

Despite the drip-drip of attacks – from GMG, News International, Associated Press, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – the Beeb still has a huge amount of authority and place in the affections of the British people.

That means it can wield an enormous amount of commercial power, simply because of who it is – and with great power comes great responsibility. The Beeb does not always use it wisely.

So the BBC creates enemies for itself in the search of a quick buck, or a land grab of publishing territory. This is unnecessary, but it’s also creating a great big stick for others to beat it with.

Step forward the Conservative Party, who will not blink twice at humbling the BBC in return for Rupert Murdoch’s backing for a few years; an old enemy vanquished and some press loyalty for a term or two.

Against this backdrop, the BBC has panicked. Services need to be cut and hair shirts worn. A few cosmetic changes should suffice in the run-up to an election. Sell a few bits of real estate, pension off Ross and Brand, and bin off a couple of minority radio stations.

Except, hang on, those minority radio stations are exactly what the BBC is supposed to be about. Catering for minority interests? All that Reithian gubbins?

I’ve never listened to the Asian Network, but I do listen to 6Music, and used to have it one 24/7 before Leslie Douglas did her level best to ruin it for being too interesting.

The fact that I listen to one and not the other is of no importance though, they both deserve equal consideration, because they go to the heart of what the BBC should be about.

That is not a nostalgic plea, it’s simple political expediency. For the BBC to stake a claim to £3.5bn of the public’s money every year it needs to demonstrate that it fulfils a need that cannot be satisfied by commercial broadcasters.

That is clearly not the case with BBC1, BBC3, Radio1 or, arguably, 5 Live. But it clearly is the case with 6Music. Where else can one hear alternative music of any quality?

Not from any commercial broadcasters that I can think of – they inevitably run out of cash and have to move back to the mainstream, because no local double glazing fitter in his right mind wants to advertise in between Asian Dub Foundation and Grizzly Bear.

There is an inherent risk in the BBC positioning itself as a minority pursuit, it can be pared back to arty-farty stuff with no compunction by an unfriendly government in that case – as Frank Field recently suggested. A slow death, for sure.

The Beeb must walk a fine balancing act: for every Strictly Come Dancing there must be a new Adam Curtis documentary; for every Family Guy a Mad Men; for every Newsbeat a Newswipe.

But to strip the BBC of 6Music would be to leave it fatally unbalanced, and shorn of one of the fig leaves that conceal its humiliated public sector remit.

It is a radio station of unparalleled quality in terms of many of its DJs and music. It’s one of the really good bits of that fading friend, the reason you retain a fundamental respect and love for them; the flash of brilliance set against the ugly backdrop.

Because to tolerate Horne and Corden you need an Adam and Joe.

• The image is a new version of the Berk and Hair image I did for MyToryTombstone. They adapted it for 6Music, so it seemed fitting to use it here

Written by Robin Brown

March 1st, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Bonnie Greer kills Nick Griffin with kindness on Question Time

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I was of the opinion all along that Nick Griffin should be allowed to be shown on the Question Time panel because, much as I like the BBC, I don’t want them deciding what is and what isn’t fit for broadcast on the basis of taste.

As it was, those worried about Griffin’s appearance on the panel need not have worried. The BNP leader looked nervous, ill-at-ease, under-prepared and rather stupid.

What I assume was a rather nervous laugh in reference to quotes that showed him to have some rather unpleasant, decidedly racist view made him look out of his depth, frivolous or insensitive. And when he did hit his stride he came close to some of the nastiness that we know forms the basis of the BNP’s politics.

Jack Straw seemed emotional, David Dimbleby seemed barely able to look at him. But it was Bonnie Greer who punctured Griffin most effectively.

She was courteous, concise, slightly condescending and appeared slightly disappointed in Griffin, who she pointedly called ‘Nick’.

It was clever stuff and Greer scored several direct hits. Griffin didn’t seem to realise he was being set up. But I don’t think anyone really addressed the reasons behind the BNP rise to prominence.

The fact is that UK works through economic migration. If we didn’t have blacks, asians, Jews and now east Europeans coming to the country to sweep our roads, clean our toilets and fix our plumbing the country would be on its knees.

That’s how it works, it’s how it;s worked for decades and there’s very little that can be done about it, as all the political parties would admit if they weren’t busy electioneering.

Griffin got in a dig at the ‘political elites’ he believes oppress the white working classes at the end of the show, in which he lambasted the BBC for being ‘ultra-leftist’.

It showed how absurd a man he is, believing in his own fantasy world of indigenous persecuted whites. He showed himself up for what he was, and no amount of grandstanding could change it. Dimbelby asked if Question Time had been an early Christmas Present for the BNP.

Question Time audience

I watched the show in my local cricket club. Question Time would rarely be on the television in the club under different circumstances, yet everyone was rapt.

I think everyone realised the gravity of the situation – a racist political party was threatening to break through into the mainstream. But as the night wore on and Griffin proved inept and vaguely comical, people drifted away.

Dragged into the light, Griffin had wilted. He was not the bogeyman everyone expected, but a small-minded racist man utterly out of his depth and skewered not by the politicians on the panel but by the gentle but pointed mocking of Bonnie Greer.

At the end of the show the audience was noticeably mocking Griffin. He had become a joke. Griffin’s appearance on Question Time had not been a present for the BNP, it had been a poisoned chalice.

Written by Robin Brown

October 22nd, 2009 at 11:48 pm

The Sun drops Labour, but there are wider issues at stake

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Idiot comic The Sun has unsurprisingly switched its allegiance to the Conservatives, having declared that the Labour government has ‘lost its way’.

This supposed revelation is as unsurprising as its timing – immediately following Gordon Brown’s rallying cry to the Labour faithful at the Labour conference.

In a clear lie the Sun’s political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, stated that the announcement was not scheduled to cause maximum political damage. That’s absurd in itself, but also because no-one really believes a lowly tabloid political editor would be allowed to make a decision like this.

The clear originator is Rupert Murdoch, who can spot a trend when he sees one. Psephologists have long argued about the impact the media has one voting behaviour. To my mind it once did, but I don’t think that anything as explicit as people obeying newspapers on election days rings true any more. Class dealignment, party dealignment, paper dealignment.

Murdoch probably knows that, which is why he’s unwilling to lose face by backing Labour – a long shot at best – at the next election. That way the idea that the Sun is the prime mover in an election victory can be maintained.

In doing so Murdoch can also leverage his fearsome media arsenal against David Cameron if he so chooses. Murmurs from the Tories regarding the BBC will not have gone unnoticed, and Murdoch can probably rub his hands in glee at the prospect of another chunk of media real estate becoming available to News International.

This raises the prospect of a British Fox News, based on the American version that delights in spouting bigotry in every form. Such broadcast channels are currently outlawed in the UK, but Cameron has already indicated that he wouldn’t obstruct them as Prime Minister.

It’s here that I think the media still has a strong influence on thinking and behaviors, the insidious drip-drip that may not explicitly back politicians or parties, but steadily reinforces right-wing values by broadcasting ignorance, fear and intolerance.

Couple that to a neutered BBC and a media landscape that could also be missing the Indie and the Observer by next year and it’s a grim prospect for a healthy Fourth Estate.

Written by Robin Brown

September 30th, 2009 at 1:35 pm


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I don’t know why people like James Murdoch, and his father before him, are invited to give MacTaggart lectures – it’s not as if anyone is going to hear anything they didn’t expect to.

Rather like a left-winger reaching vicariously for a Sun or Express in a hotel lobby room to experience the frisson of outrage, or Mary Whitehouse reaching for a Razzle, the Edinburgh media scrum seems to take great delight in a bout of extended self-flagellation.

Well, half of them do. As we already know the other half have it in for the BBC for a variety of corporate, ideological or score-settling issues.

It’s easy to see why. As digital platforms have rolled out, the BBC has kept pace. In 20 years it’s gone from under ten national radio and TV channels to a vast multimedia empire. And it’s likely to continue growing – that is, essentially, its remit – at least as far as its news coverage is concerned.

This threatens a lot of people, myself included to a degree, as it raises a number of questions about the reach of the BBC and its effect on the journalism and media market. How can news platforms make money from their news services when the Beeb does it all for free?

There’s an important issue to be addressed there but this growing, if fairly limited, base of unease about the expansion of the BBC has been recently used by a number of critics to take a pot-shot at the organisation.

Much of these can be tracked down to self-interest. Other media groups such as the Guardian Media Group, Associated Newspapers and News International have their own interests to safeguard. They often post fairly wild attacks on the Beeb for its ‘land-grab’ expansion – a subtly pejorative term that has been reinforced again and again.

James Murdoch used it at the weekend, along with the following references and terms:

[The UK is] it’s the Addams family of world media

The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.

state-sponsored journalism

state-sponsored news


[On the one hand] authoritarianism: endless intervention, regulation and control.

[For them] the abolition of media boundaries is a trumpet call to expansion: to do more, regulate more, control more.

Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever.
As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

It’s a rather faux-intellectual sixth-form style diatribe against regulation in all of its forms and the Beeb and Ofcom in particular. It flirts with some important points, but all of this is lost in the hyperbole and off-kilter references.

There’s a rather bizarre passage that compares the BBC to creationism, which then segues into another half-witted metaphor about bananas and the redundancy of regulation. This, naturally leads to ‘state-sponsored news’ – a deliberately misleading titbit thrown to the kind of right-wing loons who think the NHS is trying to kill them.

The message is clear – not only does regulation not work, it’s actively evil. What the world needs is unfettered free-market capitalism, in broadcasting as well as banking (although, of course, Murdoch didn’t mention Sky’s utter domination of pretty much ever significant sporting event in the UK following the government’s craven deregulation of that market).

Thankfully on hand to take Murdoch to task over this untimely assertion over free markets was BBC credit crunch boffin Robert Peston, who pointed out that deregulation in economic sectors recently landed us with the worst recession in 80 years.

Murdoch’s attack reminds me of the smear politics of the American right – beginning a discourse with an attack so hysterical and out-there that it drags the tone and battleground of the following debate in the attacker’s favour.

Murdoch’s attack will launch a new broadside against the organisation, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that there’s a general election next year, during which Gordon Brown and WebCameron will be hoping for some help from the Sun.

So, gear up for some serious Auntie bashing from the usual suspects over the next few weeks, indeed the next year.

Gear up for free-marketeers pushing the monopoly line; hand-wringing articles from The Grauniad about how a pay-for-content platform can work while the Beeb is offering it for free; and ideological attacks from various lunatics seizing on Murdoch’s provocative (and deliberate) accusations about state-sponsored news and Orwellian organisations.

The death-by-1000-cuts assault has begun. Yes they’ve been much more sober and considered than Murdoch’s, but a variety of big beasts have decided that now is the time to voice their opinions that the BBC would be much better if ‘slimmed down’ and focussed on ‘core values’.

This is the start of a concerted effort to neuter the Beeb as a commercial threat, designed to cripple it as a news and broadcasting organisation.

The BBC has a big part to play in organising its own defence, and needs to come out fighting, reminding people of its value and important role in British culture. And it also needs to drop its bums-on-seats approach that has led to the arms race with ITV and SKy over big events, big-name signings and stupid paychecks.

But it also needs to address issues pertaining to its use of the licence fee to fund operations that clash with existing commercial ones and re-orientating itself in the digital world in a way that does not impinge unnecessarily on private enterprise.

Those supporting the Beeb need only look to how successful social media was in correcting and combatting slurs about the NHS. Despite their faults, I love the NHS, and I love the BBC too.

• Full MacTaggart text here:

Frank Field and the future of the BBC

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Every time I see Frank Field in the news he’s making another pronouncement on some aspect of the state and how it requires a radical overhaul.

This has generally extended to the welfare state, with particular emphasis on social security and pensions.

But Frank has recently branched out by claiming that the BBC should be scaled back to being a minority public service broadcaster with two TV channels (BBC2 and BBC4) and two radio channels (Radio 3 and Radio 4).

Field was, for a very short time, social security minister in the Tony Blair government, having been priased for his radical forward thinking on the welfare state.

That was until everyone realised that just about the only person who agreed with Frank Field was Frank Field. It has to be said, he was remarkably prescient on a number of issues, probably too much for his own good.

Double F was swiftly sent back to the Wirral, where he has spent the last ten years arguing that everything should be scrapped, scaled down or broken up – cropping up with a new headline every couple of years when he’s got another headline-grabbing report out.

Here’s Frank on the BBC in his report, called Auntie’s Dying: Long Live Public Service Broadcasting.

“The BBC cannot continue to impose a version of the poll tax on every TV household.

“They are chasing viewers by producing rubbish programmes which, frankly, would make the founders of the BBC turn in their graves.

On a pedantic note, the licence fee isn’t a poll tax. Just to be straight on this, you don’t need to pay the TV licence if you don’t want to. Ergo not a poll tax.

Field argues that the public-fund nature of the licence fee compels the BBC to produce populist programmes that mirror commercial TV’s offerings.

He believes that diverting the licence fee to other content producers, who bid for the right, is a better idea – and one that is more likely to preserve public sector broadcasting in the long run.

The cultural value of the BBC is clearly a subjective one, but Field seems to have applied his own personal philosophy to everything in life. Who’s he to say which channels and stations are worthy and which aren’t? His continued references to the Proms highlight a peculiarly fusty idea of what’s of value and what isn’t.

I actually agree with Field that the BBC is going about things completely the wrong way by chasing viewers, and the continued existence of BBC3 – surely due to be renamed PramFaceTV* anytime soon – is baffling to me.

The problem is, and always will be, differing idea of what constitutes good public service broadcasting. Field has his own idea, I have mine, everyone else in the country will have theirs.

His paper recommends asking everyone what they understand by public sector broadcasting.

Frankly, I’m with Sid Vicious on this one – these are the very people who lap up the dross from commercial broadcasters at the moment. I dread to think what would be on the Beeb if it were decided by Joe Public.

Field would dispose of BBC management and an independent body would decide which broadcasters got their hands on the licence fee cash. I don’t see how this could really be much different from the current situation, where a largely unaccountable elite decides what gets made.

Field has earned a reputation for thinking the unthinkable, but it’s rarely pointed out that many ideas previously thought beyond the pale are unthinkable because they’re fucking ridiculous.

There’s certainly a debate to be had over the ways the digital revolution is changing the broadcasting landscape, and the way the BBC and other terrestrial broadcasters are funded has resulted only in a fudge thus far.

The commercialisation of some of the Beeb’s output is also problematic, as is the reach and scope of – but I’d rather have the BBC in the muddled state it’s in at the moment than a neutered niche broadcaster envisaged by Field.

Despite its intention to save public sector broadcasting, I rather fear Field’s paper will be more grist to the mill for the Beeb’s many and varied enemies – generally ranged across the right-wing and generally for economic or political purposes.

They’ll be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of getting rid of a mortal enemy and competitor, plus all that lovely licence fee cash.

The BBC needs to be at the centre of British broadcasting, reaching out to as many people as it can while remaining true to its core commitments. I don’t think it currently does, but it only needs a little tweaking.

Under Field’s disastrous vision the Beeb would be cowed, a little-viewed curio amongst a sea of digital shite. His suggestions would be the first shots in the eventual destruction of public-service broadcasting.

I’ve always found it odd that while the rest of the world looks at the BBC in envy and admiration, in Britain we spend all of our time trying to destroy it.

*It was the BBC itself, lest we forget, that actually had the temerity to call a programme about teenage mothers Pramface Mansion.

Written by Robin Brown

July 29th, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Media,People,TV

Tagged with ,

The trouble with ‘Most viewed’ widgets

without comments

The news depresses me. But not in the way you might think.

Certainly there is no shortage of terrible things in the world, but it’s the way the public interacts with news that gets me down.

Rather like the way iPods and Spotify can’t fail to homogenise music in the sense that people are less likely to take a punt on a new CD by a band they’ve barely heard, there’s a feature of news reporting on the internet that propels inane, unpleasant or freakish stories to the top of the tree.

The ‘Most commented’, ‘Most read’ or ‘Most emailed’ bars on news pages drive your viewers towards the most valuable or interesting pages on your site and are baited for the casual WILFer. The more people click the higher they get. Things snowball.

This is human nature – the equivalent of sneaking a News of the World (for the tits and gossip) in between the sheets of your weekly Observer (for the sense of moral superiority and cleansing earnestness).

There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s something that journalists and editors realise at an early age –you’ll rarely go wrong appealing to baser instincts; morbid curiosity, prejudices, sex, ephemera and crass humour.

So any journalist worth his or her salt recognises this phenomenon and knows how to work it to his or her advantage. Many are the times I’ve spotted a trending topic and dashed off articles accordingly, and there’s even a Google Maps ‘Map of Mayhem’ mash-up on MotorTorque to pander to the ‘bizarre’ aspect of motoring.

My ‘Skoda Goose Smash Terror of IT Manager’ header is one I’m hugely proud of, and it did tens of thousands of hits – viral and search-engine based – in a day because it plays to so many aspects of people’s need for a quick hit of rubbish. It stayed at the top of the ‘Most viewed’ bar for ages, until I had it manually removed.

Various social aggregator sites, most notably Fark, cater exclusively for this kind of news, reflecting and driving its popularity.

But I’ve noticed recently that the ‘Most viewed’ bar is a troubling phenomenon. On my Yahoo homepage and the BBC’s site recently two stories lingered at the top: the former regarding the number of lovers the missing chef Claudia Lawrence is alleged to have had; and another involving a woman trampled to death by a herd of cows. The latter was also at the top of the ‘Most emailed’ widget on the BBC.

It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine the circumstances in which people clicked on – or emailed – these stories, and I find it equally distasteful, disturbing and depressing.

The media is inevitably complicit in these kind of stories (especially those of the strange deaths variety) being so popular and I’ve rolled my eyes more than once at BBC Online’s headlines as they’re so clearly designed to attract this kind of slightly sick attention.

I’ve also noticed than in the case of certain celebrity deaths, sites won’t name the celeb in question in the header, forcing you to click if you want to know who’s snuffed it.

The Grauniad’s problematic Comment Is Free section has turned a kind of lefty bear-baiting into an art form, and it’s increasingly hard to believe it isn’t just designed to piss off its easily-angered community and inspire floods of user-generated content.

To an extent that’s the game these days, and it takes no mean skill in doing well, but the BBC especially rather demeans itself by slyly promoting these stories, once again repeating the bums-on-seats mistakes that is totally at odds with its remit. Entertain, educate and inform? Hardly.

I’m dubious about the news value of the apparently-comical death of the woman killed by the cows, and I’d be surprised to see it afforded any time on the air. As such it’s fairly obvious why stories like this are making it onto the Beeb’s website – hits, pure and simple.

The Beeb certainly isn’t alone in this, in fact pretty much every news site out there will do something similar. But it’s empty traffic, the value of which – monetary or otherwise – is nebulous at best. More to the point it’s fairly unpleasant; death repackaged as entertainment. The sort of thing you expect from Red Tops, not serious news sources.

This might all come off as rather pompous and antediluvian – twas ever thus after all – but the idea that somewhere an online editor is attempting to work the maximum possible traffic from the death of someone’s mother, while someone else is emailing that story to a friend with an accompanying snarky one-liner is pretty sickening, whichever way you look at it.

Written by Robin Brown

June 24th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

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