Monday, 28 September 2015

What Is To Be Done With The BBC?

Since the 1960s, many people have come to regard the BBC with increasing disaffection. There are a number of reasons for this. It is argued that the BBC is bloated and bureaucratic, that it is unrepresentative and unaccountable and that it displays a persistent liberal bias. The licence fee as a method of funding has been likened to a form of taxation. Much concern has been expressed that it has been responsible for the coarsening of our society and for 'dumbing down' in the chase for ratings.

Each of these criticisms are valid to a greater or lesser degree and remedial action to counter the more malign effects of the current BBC regime is long overdue. Unfortunately, rooting out the source of the malaise in this crucially important public body will be controversial, difficult and, if not handled carefully, could risk much unpopularity with the general public.

From its creation in 1922 to the early 1960s the BBC was an organisation that maintained and propagated traditional values and beliefs leavened with a high-minded cultural mission. But it suffered the first blow to its self esteem with the creation of ITV in 1955. This was supported by the Conservative government of the time who wished to see an end to the BBC's television monopoly whilst at the same time exploiting an opportunity to conciliate its own business supporters and backers. Not all Conservatives supported this approach as they feared that private TV companies targeting a mass audience would trigger a fall in broadcasting standards, a view shared by the Labour Party and church leaders, amongst others. As we all now know ITV was massively popular, as the independent broadcasting companies shamelessly wooed a predominantly working-class audience with, by the standards of the time, down-market programmes. Within a few years the BBC's audience share had fallen to below 30%, provoking a major crisis of confidence within the Corporation.

The BBC responded by skillfully tailoring its programmes to reflect more popular tastes, with the result that its TV audience share began to rise and by the mid-1960s it had reached a rough parity of viewers with ITV. This was a golden age of television and the best programmes from both the BBC and ITV managed to combine popularity with standards that were acceptable to all but the most prim. Unfortunately, this was also a time when the seeds that were to destroy the BBC's high reputation were first sown.

The first manifestation of this trend was That Was The Week That Was (TW3). a satirical political programme, presented between 1962-64 by a youthful team led by David Frost. By today's standards it would be considered rather tame, and its dated undergraduate style of humour would probably appeal to only a very limited audience. But at the time TW3 was widely seen as revolutionary, as it punctured the ludicrously deferential attitude to politicians which had prevailed until then. Fortuitously, it also coincided with a period of vibrant social change typified by Beatniks, Angry Young Men, Lady Chatterley, Beatlemania, Carnaby Street, James Bond and other such meretricious icons of a society that was becoming increasingly fixated with the cult of youth, modernity and sexual freedom. Newly-elected Labour leader, Harold Wilson, could call forth images of the 'white heat of the technological revolution' and be greeted with uncritical admiration by the self-appointed apostles of progress. By comparison, the governments of Macmillan and Douglas-Home, with their 'grouse moor' image, were redolent of privilege and widely seen as irrelevant or out of touch. They were an easy target for the self-confident debunkers of TW3. If this programme had been an isolated example of irreverence it would have caused no real harm and maybe some good. However, in retrospect it can be seen as the opening shot in the liberal takeover of our society.

Liberalism has not only political objectives but also a wide-ranging social agenda, the latter being reflected in a new approach epitomized by the 'kitchen sink' television drama that emerged in the early 1960s. The 'anti-heroes' of these programmes were presented as the potential saviours of our supposedly class-ridden, stultifying, bourgeois society, personifying a kind of home grown version of Rousseau's 'noble savage'. The Wednesday Play, the most notable example of this genre, with its focus on previously ignored social issues was heavily praised by increasingly vocal and influential Left-leaning critics and pundits. During this period, documentaries began to tackle issues such as unmarried mothers and sexual behaviour with an increased boldness.

These changes did not go unnoticed and, by 1965, a 'clean up TV campaign' headed by a hitherto unknown middle-aged Midlands schoolteacher, Mary Whitehouse, began to register in the nation's consciousness. For the next thirty years Mrs Whitehouse, almost single-handedly, would fight a doughty campaign against 'permissiveness', a catch-all word with which she will forever be identified. Her campaign failed completely because of two major flaws. First, as a committed Christian she assumed that her religious beliefs gave her a self-evident right to intervene in the nation's viewing habits. In reality, we live in a post-Christian age in which the overwhelming majority do not accept that the dogma of a minority religion should underpin the personal morality of society as a whole. A second weakness was that once the genie was let out of the bottle, permissiveness proved to be a tricky concept to argue against. Younger people began to question why they should be prevented from doing what they thought best in their private lives, just because some older people in authority expressed their disapproval. The Right appeared to have no credible response and by the early 1970s, the 'permissive society' was firmly established, and the commercial exploitation of sex quickly became a dominating focus of the media.

By the mid-1970s liberals were firmly in control of the BBC and they could now use its authority to promote a new 'politically correct' agenda. The main planks of this agenda are well known - a contempt or distaste for tradition, family values, Western cultural heritage, heterosexual marriage, the nation state, artistic and cultural excellence. They encouraged forces that would undermine or antagonise those on the Right, such as multiculturalism, the promotion of homosexuality and sexual promiscuity, proletarianism, internationalism, egalitarianism, 'gender' politics and - more recent obsessions - 'diversity' and 'inclusivity' which has now reached absurdity in 'islamophobia' and 'transphobia'.

TV programmes began to increasingly reflect this new agenda, and the values and lifestyle of what is now, rather loosely, known as 'Middle England' became largely marginalised. This liberal hegemony has continued until the present time, reinforced by established custom. The Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major proved to have no appetite for storming this citadel of liberalism. The one sop to their supporters' concerns, the Broadcasting Standards watchdog, proved to be completely toothless as it was packed with compliant members of the liberal establishment of a mindset indistinguishable from those running the BBC.

So what should be done with the BBC? Some argue that it should be privatised and allowed to sink or swim as just one more player in a lightly-regulated market and with no special privileges. Such a policy would be in accord with the free market economic doctrines embraced by many on the Right. However, to take this path would be disastrous. One only needs to look at the satellite and cable companies with their unremitting diet of tacky programming concentrating on chat shows, quizzes, cartoons, sport, videos, soaps, repeats and the like, to realise that such a course of action would be cultural vandalism of the highest order. Instead, the licence fee system at roughly its current level should be maintained. It offers excellent value for money considering the amount of original programming and the number of TV and radio channels that are provided.

However, one drawback of the licensing system is that the BBC is unaccountable to its audience or to anyone else for that matter. In reality it is answerable only to itself. To leave the present arrangement and liberal ethos unchanged is not an option. A government seriously committed to civilized values will need to adopt a rather more interventionist approach. To begin with, there will have to be clear out of those on the present BBC supervisory body and top management. They will need to be replaced mostly by people known to be hostile to political correctness, although the inclusion of some liberals to sharpen debate should cause no harm. This may seem drastic but liberals have had their way with this organization for far too long and change is long overdue.

The first action of the new management must be the speedy removal of all the more deleterious programmes. Eastenders, with its repulsive cocktail of politically correct themes and 'chav' lifestyle, should be the first to go. Its portrayal of dysfunctional, criminal, degraded, uncouth and gratuitously aggressive and confrontational behaviour, all masquerading as normal social conduct, sends out the wrong signals, particularly to children. This is not to suggest that all TV drama should be sanitized, just that a better balance should be struck. Very special care will need to be taken with children’s television, both in presentation and content. On the other hand, programmes aimed specifically at teenagers and young adults should be dropped altogether. They are invariably infantile and hinder rather than help young people make the transition into adulthood, a process that appears to take rather too long these days. Current affairs programmes will need to become more balanced, ie they will need to include a clear right of centre perspective rather than just the current left/liberal outlook. TV programmes generally should move significantly upmarket, particularly BBC2, and there should be far less sport as this can now easily be catered for elsewhere. Advertisements for recruitment to the BBC should be placed in a range of newspapers, not just The Guardian, to stem the liberal bias, since no society can survive if its core values are consistently subverted from within.

These proposed changes are radical but long overdue. They will inevitably cause outrage within the BBC and could well provoke industrial action. This must be faced down with determination. However, it will be necessary to tread with care the thin line between legitimate government intervention as outlined above, and state control, particularly in news and current affairs reporting, which would be unacceptable. The changes proposed will return the BBC to the high ideals under which it was founded. It will then again become a much valued British institution, deserving of respect by the majority of British people who are highly sceptical of the politically correct agenda.

No comments:

Post a Comment