Wednesday 6 March 2013

How to rescue the BBC

Every Saturday, I had a ritual. When I bought my copy of the Guardian, I would open the paper’s complementary Guide magazine and methodically go through the TV and radio listings with a red biro, marking all the programmes I wanted to watch or hear for the following week.

I no longer bother. Nearly everything I want to see or hear is on just three channels: BBC2, BBC4 and BBC Radio 4. There are also a few specialist music programmes on BBC Radios 2, 3 and 6. And if there’s nothing else on, there are always the repeats of BBC comedy programmes on Dave.

Despite the hundreds of channels available in the UK (even with the minimum offered on Freeview), when you already know that the only TV worth watching is on two channels, why bother scrutinising the other listings?

Yes, yes, I know these are the viewing habits of the liberal chattering classes. But since you are reading this blog, it is likely you share similar habits. Which means it is also likely you rely heavily on the BBC. Commercial TV and radio have little or nothing to offer (unless you are a sports fan forced to pay Murdoch’s Sky to feed your addiction).

It is why you are prepared to forgive the inanity of BBC1’s Total Wipeout and Winter Wipeout or the sheer tedium of all the daytime TV antiques shows and property porn. Even on the cherished Radio 4, you will put up with yet another unfunny sitcom or dreary afternoon play or shouty interview on the Today programme. Because life without the BBC is unimaginable.

Unfortunately, the BBC has blundered in ways rather more serious than giving airtime to Dale Winton. The Jimmy Savile scandal has delivered another hard knock to the corporation’s reputation. And this has to be set against a background of a general decline in popular trust for all the country’s major institutions.

So the BBC has to stop the rot and restore its reputation, and its supporters must recognise that there are other audiences that never listen to Radio 4.

It is with this in mind that Peter Kellner of YouGov has written an open letter to Tony Hall, the BBC’s new director general, in Prospect magazine. Prospect commissioned YouGov to survey public opinion about how trust in the BBC might be restored and Kellner’s conclusions are well worth reading.

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