With no licence fee , the radio we love is lost by Libby Purves. in BBC Management & BBC Trust - Page 1
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Author Topic:  With no licence fee , the radio we love is lost by Libby Purves.  (Read 2214 times)

Tiger

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Libby Purves has written a brilliant and illuminating article for the Times today.

Here it is;

With no licence fee, the radio we love is lostLibby Purves
 
Last updated at 12:01AM, March 24 2014
A market-minded BBC dominated by television will not treasure quality and breadth of programming for long

A tide is turning. When I think about the BBC licence fee I feel like Matthew Arnold on Dover Beach, hearing the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of an ocean receding. Multi-channels, decriminalisation, disillusion and political opportunism erode the reasonable consensus that 40p per household per day is worth paying for ad-free television and radio. It is reasonable to fear that the system founded in 1922 with a ten-shilling radio licence may not make its second century.

So what next? Once evasion is decriminalised, some suggest that refuseniks could have their signal blocked by encryption: an expensive stopgap. Others talk of advertising, Treasury funding or Noel Edmonds’ mysterious “business model”. The most likely future is subscription. If so, I would like to sound an early alert.

In most minds the £145.50 a year is a TV licence. Since 1971 radio is “free”. But it should really be called a BBC Licence, as it funds ten radio networks plus local and regional services and from next month the whole World Service. Radio uses only 17 per cent of BBC income, the biggest chunk Radio 4 because journalism, drama, documentary and crafted radio are expensive. Second most costly is 5 Live, followed by music channels (Radio 3, interestingly, cheaper than Radio 2).

But it is television that creates celebrity, fashion and tabloid excitement for other media. Apart from DJ personality cults and a Westminster-village obsession with Today presenters, radio just doesn’t. And my fear is that in a subscription future its status would shrivel within a nervous, market-minded corporation. Music and news will always be valued and chat is cheap; but how about storytelling, in-depth interviews, original commissioning and artistic experimentation?

There is nothing like BBC radio anywhere. If BBC TV ceased to exist it would be sad, but news, documentary, game shows and drama do exist on other channels. Nobody else offers crafted radio. Channel 4 promised us some (everyone in radio longs for a rival to ginger up the slow BBC commissioning system) but they bowed out. There is just a fledgeling industry in commercial podcasts. You might well argue that Radio 4, at least, is accepted as a “jewel in the crown” of the BBC, cheap at the price and untainted by cheating, scandal, Ross-Brand, Savile etc. You could suppose that under any system its budgets and freedom would be safe. But I dunno. Even now, TV-controlled “bi-mediality” has an effect: despite a pledge from the present Director-General Tony Hall when he was running News that he would separate the two news empires, it is commonplace for radio to run a report that is obviously the soundtrack to TV pictures. Only the few correspondents you don’t see on screen — such as the great Hugh Sykes — deliver vivid, brilliant prose in the radio tradition.

I am an optimist, more so since the arrival of Lord Hall, yet the threat of subscription reminds me of a Nineties moment, in the ghastly John Birt years. I was enraged enough to propose in a speech at the Radio Academy “that the BBC is no longer a fit guardian for quality radio”. It said that letting TV-minded executives have power over radio was giving Cain the key to Abel’s life-support machine, and that if you looked at the Eric Gill statue on the front of Broadcasting House it was clear that big, powerful Prospero was actually strangling Ariel. TV’s corporate, ambitious populism was diverging so fast from Reithianism that radio needed ring-fenced money and separate management. I rudely added that you wouldn’t put Disney in charge of the RSC and that the core of BBC power was “TV-trained people impatient of R4, irritated by its pretensions, bored by its lack of hot pictures, press coverage and general sexiness. They have no fellow feeling or time for it.”

I found those rants in that old, rash, heartfelt speech and remember a rufty-tufty reception from managers and samizdat congratulations from colleagues. And am happy to say that the fears were reduced later, under that combative champion of radio Dame Jenny Abramsky and strong new controllers, notably Mark Damazer. There have been cuts in budget and sad losses in drama, but the inventive, intelligent tone endures.

This is not an insider plea. I spend far more time listening than broadcasting and defend it because while nothing is perfect, our speech radio is a marvel: democratic, portable, nimble. It is where the best comedy is born, from Hancock to Alan Partridge, because its cheapness and speed makes it daring. It has fed television’s imagination, invigorating a mindset that because of the showier medium’s costs is often timid and imitative. It produces deeper news analysis than TV, and sometimes scoops it (Derek Cooper talked about BSE long before anyone and many a new global crisis emerges first on From Our Own Correspondent).

It is not, as some sneerers say, all elite or elderly but cherished by long-distance drivers, home workers, craftspeople. Get out of the metropolis and you will meet manual workers without money, status or travel experience who are well in the swim, talking about science, history and art: plugged in to everything worth hearing by Radio 4. OK, there are not as many of them as there are couch potatoes or pop fans, but there are enough who will say to you that it is their university and their friend.

So whatever happens to BBC funding, someone had better put a ring-fence up around high-quality radio. Because TV bosses will never love it enough, and it will never be the sort of operation that flourishes in a scramble for money and quick fame. If its skills vanish, it will take another century to rebuild them"

Tiger

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Re: With no licence fee , the radio we love is lost by Libby Purves.
« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2014, 08:19:53 PM »
Perhaps the BBC needs to consider a separate radio licence fee? That would blunt the damage of dicrimilisation.. and I am pretty sure that Radio4 listeners would even pay that on top of a TV licence.

darcysarto

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Re: With no licence fee , the radio we love is lost by Libby Purves.
« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2014, 08:53:16 PM »
Thank you for posting this Tiger.

Libby hits several nails on their heads in this article.  All the talk of the licence fee in recent weeks; Conservative chair of the DCMS John Whittingdale (currently heading up an review into the future of the BBC) suggested on 5Live that it was time to consider scrapping the licence fee...



...whilst Conservative Andrew Bridgen MP is heading up the decriminalisation amendment to the Deregulation bill



All talk centres around the Idiot Box but what of radio?  Radio 2's 16m listeners, Radio 4's 9m, local radio's 7.5m etc.  I've heard no mention, not even a question about the future of radio in this halcyon utopian Tory future they appear keen to impose on us.

Do I trust the people who brought us the proposed closure of 6Music to make the right decision?  Hmmm.



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