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“Beeching-style” BBC enquiry? You must be joking

ITN news­read­er Alas­tair Stew­art calls for ‘Beech­ing’ inquiry into BBCGuardian

ITN news­cast­er Alas­tair Stew­art attacked the BBC at a CBI NW region din­ner last night, sug­gest­ing that it would ben­e­fit from a “Beech­ing style enquiry” to assess whether its ser­vices are all real­ly “nec­es­sary and viable”.

A “Beeching”-style enquiry into the BBC? You must be jok­ing – look at the dam­age Beech­ing did that will hit us even hard­er as we enter the age of cli­mate change. Tak­ing the coun­try’s major assets and will­ful­ly destroy­ing them is not an answer to the ques­tion of why peo­ple aren’t watch­ing the competition.

Call­ing for a “Beech­ing-style” enquiry is equiv­a­lent to call­ing for a hatch­et job. In fact the sug­ges­tion is very reveal­ing of true intent.

Only some­one work­ing for a com­pet­ing media pro­duc­er could think of such a thing. Go out and do a bet­ter job than the BBC and then you can talk from a posi­tion of strength instead of one of des­per­a­tion. Make the invest­ments in new tech­nolo­gies, inno­v­a­tive pro­gram­ming, stuff that isn’t dumb­ed-down to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Make some inter­est­ing pro­grammes that are worth watch­ing. And yes, cov­er the news better.

Every­one and their friend who still works on a news­pa­per wants to get at the BBC, but it is still doing a bril­liant job. It just lost its nerve back in the days of the Hut­ton Enquiry. Yes, every­one has some­thing to say about the licence fee — it’s the worst way of rais­ing mon­ey for PSB except for all the oth­ers — but by not being a tax it is not so much able to be influ­enced by a gov­ern­ment annoyed at crit­i­cism. We need ring-fenced fund­ing for qual­i­ty broad­cast­ing to ensure it does­n’t all go the way of ITV — down to the bottom.

Yes, we also need oth­er PSB providers, doing inno­v­a­tive things. We have at least one, in the shape of Chan­nel 4 with its remark­able devel­op­ment ini­tia­tives like 4ip, but we need more. Is top-slic­ing the answer? No. Unfor­tu­nate­ly there’s a prece­dent for that so no doubt we’ll see more, but at least keep it in the PSB arena.

We need a BBC that is free to make the pro­grammes and deliv­er the ser­vices that com­mer­cial oper­a­tors can’t, or won’t, pro­vide. Look at the world-lead­ing BBC web site; the world-lead­ing BBC doc­u­men­tary and fac­tu­al pro­gram­ming; the pop­u­lar BBC News chan­nel. These all offer amaz­ing val­ue at half the price of a dai­ly news­pa­per and half the price of an aver­age Sky subscription.

Of course there will be areas of the BBC that can be improved. I have no doubt that a bit of trans­paren­cy would go a long way — a process already start­ed. How about trans­paren­cy on the com­mer­cial side? No doubt we would like the Cor­po­ra­tion to pay less for celebri­ties — which is fine as long as every­one else does the same and it’s not in breach of con­tract. There’s room for improve­ment for sure — but a slash-and-burn dis­mem­ber­ment is not even slight­ly an answer.

Being unable or unwill­ing to com­pete is not a good rea­son for diss­ing the oppo­si­tion. It sounds a lot too much like sour grapes.