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Author Topic:  The Friends of Radio 3 Write to Lord Hall  (Read 2264 times)


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The Friends of Radio 3 Write to Lord Hall
« on: December 31, 2013, 07:19:40 PM »
This was picked up by the Telegraph but it's worth a read in its original form.

Letter sent to Lord Hall, BBC Director-General, 19 December 2013

Dear Lord Hall

This is NOT a complaint - please do not forward it to Capita in Darlington to be referred to the relevant staff. This is sent to you as the BBCs Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of the BBC Executive Board. We protest at the way the BBC treats arts subjects and classical music; and the extent to which it underestimates the intelligence of the public - in general, but particularly on Radio 3.

The Royal Opera House values accessibility, reaching a wider public; but this has meant screening the Real Thing in multiplexes and public spaces, not taking simplified operas, with celebrity crossover stars, into small art house cinemas. The arts, seriously treated - and classical music in particular - should form part of the BBCs regular mainstream services, education by familiarisation, not the occasional big event, series or reality TV.

Meanwhile, Radio 3 is making cuts to its specialist classical output (musicology/music talks, early music, new music recording) and is reducing or sidelining its special, non-classical areas (jazz, world music, drama/arts). Financial constraints are cited but such cuts also sit well with its strategy of increasingly targeting people with little knowledge of classical music and cutting anything they might find daunting.

Seven years ago, Radio 3s morning music programme discussed Bartks Cantata Profana. The successor music programme, this week, had a media personality being invited to talk about Strictly Come Dancing. The BBC should blush that its intellectual standards and ambition have fallen so low. The official view is that this is about accessibility and differing tastes. It is not.

Under the Charter & Agreement (Agreement 7 b, Education and learning) the BBC is obliged to provide specialist educational content and accompanying material to facilitate learning at all levels and for all ages. It has been Radio 3s unique role to provide such specialist content at the highest level. This can still occur during the high-profile special events; however, the main aim of these, we learn incidentally, is to promote the station (and satisfy the BBC hierarchy?).

The Radio 3 listeners on the attached list express their dismay at the decline of a station which was once intelligent, educational and enjoyable; now, increasingly frequently, it is none of these things. Not only that, but the current strategy has been a failure, even on its own terms.

Yours sincerely

Signed by 740 Radio 3 listeners (including many distinguished musicians, writers, scientists and academics)

The comments below accompanied our letter to the Director-General:

Radio 3s budget

We have been categorically assured by the Trust that the level at which service licence budgets are fixed is not calculated on the basis of audience size, but on the nature of the content. That is hard to believe when Radio 3, supporting the BBC Proms and the BBC Performing Groups, as well as producing long-form drama and specialist features, has a smaller budget than Radio 1 - smaller, in fact, than any of the other network stations.

We know that part of DQF [Delivering Quality First] strategy was to concentrate the ever-squeezed BBC finances on the larger services with bigger audiences [DQF, p 20: Focusing investment on flagship services and on the times of day when the public most use our services, and reducing spend on off-peak times and the smaller members of the television and radio portfolios]. This sounds like the opposite of what the Trust told us, and we disagreed with it at the time.

The effect on the Radio 3 budget, accepted by a mystifyingly compliant management, is appalling. The BBC is reducing what was once an exemplary service for the arts and music to a light-weight, low-cost music station to compete with Classic FM, celebrity-strewn for a, no doubt, very appreciative, but undemanding audience.

FACT: Since the introduction of service licences in 2006/07 Radio 3s budget increase has been 8.6%, compared with, at the other extreme, Radio 1s 35% increase. A sizable proportion of Radio 3s budget (more than a third in 2009/10, that is, over 12m from the controllers direct spend of 33m that year - figures supplied by the Trust) supports the Proms and the Performing Groups. This is disproportionate to the broadcast hours and leaves a grotesquely small amount to provide a remaining schedule of any quality.

FACT: In the past five years, almost all the areas of Radio 3s specialist remit have been cut and, if press rumours are to be believed (see print-out attached), there are further cuts planned to arts and music speech programmes. The live and specially recorded music, which two years ago actually accounted for 58% of the music output, is now required to be only 40%, leaving a daytime schedule heavily dependent on CDs - the cheapest form of output - and formulaic, presenter-led programming. Long-form drama has recently been relegated to the 10pm slot, ensuring a reduction in its audience. Will that lead to a reduction in its budget?

Editorial strategy

a) Radio 3s adopted strategy - endorsed, not imposed, by the Trust - is to focus a substantial part of the classical music output, especially at peak listening times, on audiences with little knowledge of classical music. Current listeners are understandably angry at being served so much elementary, light material which is aimed principally, not at them, but at attracting a possible new listenership.

b) Was the recent three-week BBC Sound of Cinema season intended mainly as a promotional event to draw attention to Radio 3 (which carried most of the programming)? Was it coordinated by the Classical Music Board, chaired by the Controller of Radio 3 (who has said that it usefully drew the attention of people who would not be the stations natural listeners)? Why should an entire three weeks be spent broadcasting music that Radio 3 seldom plays in order to attract the attention of people who are not the stations natural listeners?

c) The Controllers claim to licence fee payers, to justify holding a three-week film season, was that the Trusts 2011 review contained a requirement which obliged Radio 3 to reach out to the widest audience. That is factually incorrect: the Trust review said that other services within the BBCs portfolio were more effective (p. 7) than Radio 3 in introducing new audiences to such content, and should do so [i.e. Review, p 41 other services within the BBC portfolio should also play a role in meeting this requirement, and are potentially better placed to do so, given their size, scale and broader audience].

The BBC has refused to reveal Radio 3s complete strategy plans, submitted to the Trust in 2011. This is secrecy rather than transparency, and we believe the BBC has abandoned any intention of providing a critically rigorous service on the grounds, presumably, that it is elitist.

Many of the BBCs services are now directed at very specific audiences, rather than at the broad public: CBeebies, CBBC, BBC Three, Radio 1, Radio 1Xtra, the Asian Network, for example. Radio 3 is a broad-based specialist station: it should not be regarded as needing remedial treatment if some audiences perceive it to be daunting or inaccessible some of the time [Trust Review 2011]. That is exactly as it should be.

Downgrading Radio 3s non-classical output and focusing the classical musical content predominantly on new listeners is effectively closing down an entire service by the back door.

Insofar as it is, indeed, desirable to educate a new audience to classical music and the arts, the BBC has a fundamental duty to provide regular coverage of these subjects on mainstream services, regardless of whether that affects their audience figures. Why were no complete Proms concerts broadcast last season on BBC Two? Even the lighter concerts that it used to broadcast were moved to BBC Four. Why was the tiny amount of classical music (about 7 minutes) that was included in the Urban Classic Prom concert cut from the televised broadcast on BBC Three?

It is hypocritical for the BBC to claim that it wants to bring such music to the wider public if it fails to include it with any regularity on mainstream services. How much would it cost to film a piano recital or chamber concert for BBC Two?

And following the Telegraph article:


The press picked up on our letter to Lord Hall and spoke with the controller, Roger Wright, who defended the policy of playing film scores and theme tunes from television shows on Radio 3. This, of course, had not been the point of our letter. We did not accuse Radio 3 of dumbing down, nor did we challenge the occasional playing of film music on Radio 3. But straw men come in handy in such situations.

What we asked (among other things) was whether the three-week long Sound of Cinema season was principally a promotional event to draw attention to Radio 3, since most of the so-called BBC season was focused on Radio 3 and the controller had said that attention has helpfully been drawn to BBC Radio 3 across a wide spectrum of BBC audiences who would not be natural listeners to the station.

A glance at the comments beneath the Telegraph article shows why Rogers policy is wrong.

Actually, I find that film themes are the natural bastion of traditional music with a tune that you can actually hum, or whistle. Anything composed since 1950 as "serious" music has been absolute rubbish, so I'm all for R3 playing film music.

There you have it - playing film music will attract an audience whistling the tunes and thinking that all serious music composed since 1950 is absolute rubbish. So will Hear and Now and all new music commissions follow Discovering Music as the next specialist items on Radio 3 to be axed?

Roger, you have responsibility for coordinating classical music broadcasting across BBC television and radio. So where are the modern equivalents of those many unpretentious programmes from Radio 2 and Radio 4 which introduced a mass audience, including young people, to classical music? What is the point of having such programmes on Radio 3, where you do not have that mass audience, in the hope that you can attract listeners? You haven't done so and won't, not in any significant numbers.

You are familiar (allegedly) with the Trusts review of Radio 3, so you know they specifically said that other BBC services besides Radio 3 were more effective, better placed, than Radio 3 to introduce new audiences to classical music. So why dont you ensure that they do it, instead of trying to turn Radio 3 into a childrens party, with comedians (I dont know too much about classical music) and games, kazoos and funny noses?

Such gimmicks will not appeal to listeners who are keen to learn more about classical music, and they will turn away the listeners who expect more of Radio 3. Where is your informed audience going to come from?

All taken from their website for further information.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2013, 07:47:07 PM by darcysarto »

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