The BBC is reportedly axing 6Music and the Asian Network (actually they’re axing far more than that, according to the leaked report which the Times gleefully printed). My exposure to BBC 6Music has been limited to the Adam and Joe podcasts, so on the face of it I shouldn’t be bothered by the threatened closure. But I am, and I will try to explain why.
The BBC’s digital channels have long been a target for the corporation’s enemies. In the early days the Daily Mail criticised the BBC for wasting money on channels which no-one watched (and, given that BBC Choice launched in September 1998 before any digital TV receivers became available for the public to buy, they did briefly have a point). Last year, Sky boss James Murdoch criticised the BBC’s expansion. And of course there is a long list of BBC Three programme titles ready to be dropped into a Richard Littlejohn piece at the right point.
The BBC’s radio stations generally, meanwhile, have come in for criticism from commercial rivals. This ignores the fact that, almost without exception, commercial radio is total crap (or should that be Absolute crap?) with unimaginative playlists, annoying presenters, far too many adverts and “local” stations which are often broadcast from a playout server 200 miles away from their licence area. And that’s just music radio, not speech — if BBC Radio 4 closed down tomorrow, would GCap Media step in with their own replacement?
The real problem here is that no-one (including, it seems, BBC management) knows what the corporation is supposed to be doing. Is it supposed to broadcast entertainment and information for the masses (in which case, CLOSE IT DOWN because commercial channels can do that) or is it supposed to broadcast niche programmes of interest to a small minority (in which case, CLOSE IT DOWN because satellite or cable channels funded by subscription can do that)?
My own view is that the BBC is funded by everyone, and therefore has the opportunity (and in fact a responsibility) to be all things to all people. That’s why I’m trying to avoid a “How can the BBC axe (x) when they spend millions on (y)“-type post (where (x) is a show I like, and (y) is probably Top Gear), because programme (y) is going to be of interest to someone, even if it’s not me. Stations like 6Music and the Asian Network are an essential part of that “something for everyone” mix.
The Tories, unsurprisingly, welcomed the move. An incoming Conservative government (I know, I’m scared too) is likely to impose far more radical cuts on the BBC (and everything else, for that matter), so this could just be the start of a very painful period for Auntie.