THE role of the BBC sometimes joins me on this ledge and was mentioned in passing on Saturday. I only return to this topic so soon thanks to last night’s TV Baftas.
I didn’t watch the ceremony but saw ripples of excitement on social media, and then caught the headlines on the news. The ceremony was notable for a series of attacks on the government’s intentions for the BBC and Channel 4 from leading actors, directors and TV personalities.
As the event went out with an hour’s delay, some of the criticism was edited out by the BBC, which was caught in the tricky position of having to mute some of the speeches made in its defence.
Such affairs are usually glitzy and shallow; this one was glitzy and deep. The reaction to this depends on where one stands, and is reflected in the coverage the ceremony receives in this morning’s newspapers.
In my own attempt at balance, let’s begin with the Sun, which is perpetually hostile to the BBC, although happy to plunder the Corporation wardrobe to dress its pages with stories about Strictly, Bake Off, Top Gear and more.
Mr Murdoch’s tabloid sprinkles on the glamour with shots of the gowns, and then uses an editorial to say that the ceremony was “hijacked” by “luvvies” for wanting their “meal ticket preserved” and adding that such pleas should not “obscure the need to get a grip on the BBC’s out-of-control website and dodgy scheduling”.
As always, the Sun is dutifully doing its owner’s bidding: those speaking up were not preserving their meal ticket but defending the importance of an independent BBC in the face of a hostile government; the website is only out of control to newspaper owners as it is actually very good and useful; “dodgy scheduling” is code for “the BBC shouldn’t be allowed to make programmes people want to watch”.
Let’s move on to those luvvies.
The most headline-grabbing speech came from Peter Kosminsky, the director of Wolf Hall, well deserved winner of two awards, best drama series and best leading actor.
When he received his award, Kosminsky accused the government of trying to “eviscerate” the BBC and Channel 4 – ahead of culture secretary John Whittingdale’s white paper on the future of the BBC, due this week.
He said that proposals to appoint a majority of members on a new BBC board threatened its independence and would turn it into a state broadcaster “a bit like… those bastions of democracy Russian and North Korea”.
This reference did not make the programme – but did rather make the point: presumably the BBC was nervous of being seen as too critical of the government.
In a key part of his speech, Kosminsky said: “It’s not their BBC, it’s your BBC. In many ways, the BBC and Channel 4, which they are also attempting to eviscerate, are the envy of the world and we should stand up and fight for it, not let it go by default.
“If we don’t, blink and it will be gone. No more Wolf Halls, no more groundbreaking Dispatches [on Channel 4], just a broadcasting landscape where the only determinate of whether it gets made is whether it lines the pockets of shareholders.”
Important stuff – and Kosminsky was given a standing ovation.
Rylance, a deserved winner if ever there was one, later chipped in with his own criticism, saying: “Woe to any government or corporation that tries to get between the British people and their love of a good joke, a true story, a good song, a fact or fiction, good sports commentating, newscasters who can hold themselves together as they tell stories about terrible tragedies in Paris, people who can help you bake cakes.”
All praise to those luvvies.
In the wake of the government’s general bossiness and fumbling, we should worry about what it intends for the BBC. More and more, certain policies are dragged out and flourished, such as forcing all schools in England to become academies, only to then be dropped.
Exactly what the government plans for the BBC and Channel 4 remains a mystery for now – possibly to the government itself, which may well say one thing then change its mind when everyone starts booing.
The BBC should be beyond the reach and interference of any government – as should the NHS and education. Without the constant battering of ideological change, everyone could just get on with doing a good job.
On a TV note, well done to the BBC for Wolf Hall, one of the best dramas in years; and to Peter Kay for his low-key delight, Car Share.