Wednesday, 3 March 2010

BBC wrong to axe 6 Music!

I was disappointed to hear this week that the BBC would be closing its digital radio station 6 Music. I've become a big fan since I started listening to it a few years ago.

Radio stations like 6 Music represent everything that the BBC should be doing, and highlights what the BBC is best at. It feels like the BBC is being bullied into making cutbacks in areas where it's not necessary. I wish sometimes the BBC would take are more belligerent stance against its critics!

Mark Thompson, the BBC's Director General announced its new strategy proposals which will result in the closure of 6 Music and a second digital station the Asian Network.

The BBC will make cutbacks to its website operations, and reduce its spending on TV sports rights, foreign television, and sell off some of its magazines. The savings made will lead to more investment into producing high quality British programmes.

There's nothing wrong with that at all, but the BBC seems to constantly have its back against the wall trying to defend itself against its growing army of critics in the commercial media and the world of politics.

I discovered 6 Music about 18 months ago and after listening to a selection of shows, I thought to myself:

'this is exactly the type of station I've been looking for'

There's a good selection of musical styles, with shows presented by DJs who you know are passionate about their music. It's an extension of what you can also find on Radio 2 and late night Radio 1, but has the freedom to cover some musical areas in more depth.

Only this week I was listening to a documentary series on the classic reggae record label Trojan Records. I can't imagine where I'd be able to listen to a similar show on commercial radio.

Reading the BBC Trust's website, it states six key points in its commitment to its audiences. The main point which caught my attention was this one:

Content: to be a leader not a follower, offering content of the highest quality and of a kind that no-one else is doing.

Well this is 6 Music, and this is why it should stay. At times I get tired of the constant BBC bashing. No matter what it does as a corporation it never seems to satisfy its critics.

I except that the BBC has to be careful in managing how much it takes on as a public broadcaster and doesn’t stifle competition, but it shouldn't be caving in to the demands of the likes of Rupert Murdoch and other critics.

Last year Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch gave a speech at the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival attacking the BBC for its dominance.

The language he uses in his speech you'd think the BBC was an insatiable media monster terrorising the commercial media sector. Speaking out in terms of the BBC's news and journalism content, James Murdoch said:

"Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet," ...."We seem to have decided as a society to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market and then get bigger to compensate."

The argument for 'clipping the wings' of the BBC is that it has an unfair advantage over commercial media. It has the guaranteed revenue of the TV licence which has helped it expand its media operations, increasingly worrying its commercial rivals. In particular, newspaper and magazine groups.

The biggest problem faced by commercial media is that they're all struggling with declining revenues made worse by the global recession. This is particularly true of news production and journalism. The problem isn't just in the UK but in Europe and America.

There's no doubt that the BBC is in a stronger position to combat the effects of this recession due to its licence fee. What critics don't point out is that Europe and America don't have the equivalent of the BBC, so it's misleading to argue that the BBC is totally responsible for all the difficulties faced by commercial media.

The likes of Rupert Murdoch are looking at charging people for accessing the online content of papers within the News International group such as the Times and the Sun. Murdoch argues that the BBC makes it difficult for commercial media organisations to convince people that they should pay for online content.

Now here's a thought, may be people go to the BBC's website for news or listen to its radio content because the quality and standard is actually quite high. Just because something is free doesn't make it any good. Perhaps it's up to commercial media to improve the quality of its own content and output rather than constantly complaining about the BBC.

Many of the BBC's loudest critics have complained that the cut backs don't go far enough, but their demands are unrealistic, and smacks of trying to reduce the BBC's competitiveness against commercial rivals.

The BBC has the difficult role of having to appeal to mainstream audiences making programmes that the public wants, to justify its public funding. It can't be totally insulated from commercial concerns in the way some people argue.

On the other hand, one of the BBC's greatest strengths is that it can produce programmes where ratings are not the be all and end all and produce stations like 6 Music which appeal to a small but loyal audience.

I think the BBC is an amazing institution, and I actually believe the licence fee is well worth the money. Of course it's not perfect, but its coverage of news, sport, music and TV dramas has been excellent for many years, and I hope it continues.

As for 6 Music, the amount of support that the station has received from fans and other famous music artists suggests that there's still hope out there that the station can be saved.

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