Reasons to be cheerful about the BBC and reasons to despair…


David Tennant in his Doctor Who re-run

HOW do you plan to spend the £4.50 you will ‘save’ from the rise in the BBC licence fee? My beery calculator reckons that amounts to one pint of beer – a year.

I’ll save mine for the weekend. Or wait five years and have a big night out in 2028.

Lucy Frazer, the Not-Much-Culture-Round-Here Secretary, says limiting the licence fee increase to £10.50 instead of £15 will help people with the high cost of living.

That is nonsense with toxic Tory nobs on. A pretend reason for actions taken out of political spite – following a licence fee freeze that has already lumbered the BBC with a £500m gap in funding.

The BBC can’t win. It can’t please all of the people all of the time, or some of them never. Moaners on the right say it’s too left wing; moaners on the left say it’s too right-wing. Moaners in the middle shrug and say it’s a bit of both.

Those moaners on the right who chunter on forever about the BBC being biased probably prefer the blatantly biased GB News – a station that fritters its backers’ fortunes on employing Tory MPs and ministers as ‘presenters’.

The station pays ranty-pants Tory MP Lee Anderson the ridiculous sum of £100,000 a year for his presenting ‘skills’.

Coming up after the break. Reasons why the BBC often annoys a man who is happy to pay that licence fee. And would happily have foregone one ‘free’ pint a year for the BBC to have received the fuller increase, as originally planned.

First, here are reasons to be cheerful about the BBC.

These examples are taken from the top of my head, that shiny mound above my viewing eyes.

The first three episodes of the new Doctor Who series have been exceptional pieces of TV. Intelligent stories told with enviable confidence and filmed with the verve of a good movie.

Bringing back David Tennant for a brief encore sounded weird, but show-runner Russell T Davies, back in charge of the spinning Tardis, pulled this off wonderfully and wisely. As for Ncuti Gatwa, he promises to be a proper treat as the ever-morphing doctor.

If Doctor Who is not your thing, how about Shakespeare: Rise Of A Genius. Highly engaging, fascinating – and a revealing account of the playwright’s life, a winning mix of drama and talking heads.

Or Julius Caesar: The Making Of A Dictator, another winning three-part mix of historical docudrama and talking heads.

Or the revelatory Once Upon A Time in Northern Ireland (above), my documentary of the year. Or the latest David Attenborough series.

Or good recent drama such as Boat Story – pleasingly whacky for a mainstream series. Or the return of Vigil, no longer stuck under water but roaming free after military drones unleash murderous mayhem. Or great dramas from The Woman In The Wall to Wolf Hall, all the way back to Our Friends In The North.

There are endless examples. Feel free to pick your own or decry mine. But surely we can agree that detesting everything the BBC does just because your political sensibilities are offended by something on the evening news is hardly fair.

Here are my reasons to be less cheerful.

Emasculating what is left of Newsnight is a terrible idea. It’s not what it was but Newsnight is still the best side of BBC news, and in good new hands under the admirably tough Victoria Derbyshire – she who will not be deflected.

Turning Newsnight into a 30-minute discussion show is a terrible idea. Where’s the vision; where’s the investigative journalism? What’s the point?

As Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, puts it: “… the decision to totally eviscerate the ONLY serious daily TV news discussion show that BBC TV carries is just a flat out bad decision”.

Here’s another reason for annoyance. BBC News CEO Deborah Turness was trundled onto the Today programme to defend the decision. She blamed inflation and a flat licence fee – fair enough, up to a point – and said news had to “carry its share” of savings.

Yet she did so with such corporate pig-headedness, such management-speak arrogance, that I had to switch off.

In many ways, the BBC is fatally hampered by its own mission of political even-handedness, a high-wire compromise that leads to dull journalism, and still pleases no-one much.

The main BBC news is OK but mostly too predictable, following whatever agenda has been set by either the right-wing newspapers and their owners, or bigging up whatever nonsensical policy our floundering government just magicked out of the frothing panic.

God, you can’t turn on the BBC radio news without hearing a dreary posh Tory droning on about the Rwanda policy. Is nothing else happening in the country, in the world? Wouldn’t you just love to hear a Today presenter say, ‘Oh, we’ve said all there is to say about that. Here is some proper news.’

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