Last year (or was it earlier this year?) I read a newspaper article about the proposed cuts the BBC or should I say Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the Organisation was putting forward. Many of them I disagreed with. Like many decisions the BBC have made on his watch – Indeed most cuts the BBC have made over the past thirty years were nearly always been unwarranted or subject to political pressure, perceived or not. The cuts made in a pre-emption of the renewal of the BBC Charter during the Blair-era of Government. In the end the cuts proved to be nonsensical and totally unnecessary. The Government needed everyone to go Digital by 2010 or whenever date they proposed to switch of the analogue transmitters. Who was going to help with that? Why Auntie Beeb of course?
As a consumer and someone who like every British taxpayer who pays for the BBC through the television licence fee, I feel with certain exceptions (Michael Grade for one,) that the BBC has suffered for far too long from a distinct lack of leadership and /or from people who even though they run the BBC would not stand up and fight for, nor defend this most British of Institutions, broadcasting and otherwise. Not even if their lives depended on it!
Apart from proposals to cut back on US imports of shows like Mad Men for instance (really annoyed by this,) of the many cuts they proposed (almost none I agreed with,) the two that caught my attention and stayed with me was the proposed closure of the music station ‘6 Music’ and ‘The Asian Network’. The cuts overall worried me but these two services even more.
Let’s start with 6Music. Having listened to this Station off and on since its inception in 2002, it quickly dawned on me the reason why it was important to have a music station like this. It simply didn’t exist anywhere else. Not within the BBC or the commercial sector. In fact 6 Music was doing what the late great John Peel had been doing his whole career in Radio – Pushing forward the music agenda and breaking through new artists and music. What a marvellous epitaph to a Radio Legend.
The Station was winning awards. Mr. Thompson proposes closing 6 Music as a way of giving the commercial sector more room to move. Since when has it been the BBC’s place to make things easier for the commercial sector? Listening to commercial radio nowadays I would argue there is a need for BBC Radio across the board – 6 Music especially. Commercial Radio runs more competitions, doles out money and prizes via competitions in order to keep its audience – They are literally paying people to listen to their diatribe programming. I don’t want to listen to radio where every five minutes someone is allowed on air to answer questions and win prizes sometimes going into the hundreds of thousands. I want to be entertained and informed. Commercial Radio no longer does that. There is no individuality in Commercial Radio and that is not surprising as control is concentrated in the hands of a few big media organisations.
I have never been sure why whenever the BBC increases its share of an audience, it is seen as a bad thing by their commercial competitors and politicians alike. When ITV used to regular trounce the BBC in the Saturday night TV war, it wasn’t seen as a bad thing. 6 Music has consistently increased it audience share of the radio audience simply because there are still people out there who are interested in listening to a radio station that plays serious popular music, getting up and coming artists into the studio to record music sessions. This is something commercial radio has failed to do with the exception of Virgin Radio when Richard Branson owned it. Does Absolute Radio as it is now called do this? Probably not! I don’t know as no longer listen to the Station especially as Virgin under Chris Evans ownership went the Talk Radio route. Never knew a DJ paid to play music and hated doing so. Strange! I digress however.
I for one am glad the BBC Trust saw sense and put a halt to the closure. The case wasn’t made for the closure of 6 Music simply because there wasn’t ever a case. It was and is a reflection of the times we live in where we now have a Coalition Government, full of ministers hell bent on welding eight foot axes, and waving them in every direction like mad windmills in a hurricano! No real thought went into this (I suspect,) other decisions regarding the scaling back and cuts to services the BBC provides in other areas. Just cuts for cuts sake.
This leads me into the area of The Asian Network. I am even more surprised that this was given the go ahead without any kind of outcry from the target audience i.e. The Asian Community in this Country. One could (and certainly would,) argue that there is now more than ever a need for such a radio service to a target community in this Country. It is no surprise I am writing this a couple days after the fifth anniversary of what transpired on the London Underground Tube network where a group of young Asian men (from the North of England,) decided to make a long journey all the way to London on a suicide mission in which they maimed and killed innocent people on their way to work for no other reason than their disillusionment at their lot and the situation that was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan at that time. This is a simplistic view on what is a much bigger and complex problem/issue. However, I would argue there are problems much closer to the area these young men lived than what was going on elsewhere in the world.
It did and continues to worry me that young Muslim men (especially those born and raised here in the UK,) allowed their minds to be poisoned by a kind of religious fanaticism that has no place here but was allowed to take route here and fester like an untreated wound until the poison that was 911 and the invasion of Iraq broke the wound, seeping out so much poison puss. The teachings of radical Muslim clerics had taken route and their points proved.
But how does the above eclipse the reality of life for young Muslim and Asian men generally in areas such as Hackney in East London, Oldham in Lancashire and Bradford in Yorkshire. The reality of life in these towns and cities is a far cry from Iraq and Afghanistan and much more real given these realities are on their own doorstep. A British or American soldier has a far greater understanding of what is going in those two countries, simply because their very survival and being good at what they do depends on it.
The Indian Sub-Continent of Asia has made many significant contributions to the British Empire and its prosperity. Before the British step foot into India, occupied and ran it down into a peasant economy, India was ruled by the Mughals, descendants of Mongols under Genghis Khan. They had a thriving civilisation, rich, powerful, India built ships for the Royal Navy. Robert Clive equated Dhaka with Manchester and not surprising given the textile trade and industry was second to none. I digress.
The Asian Network (or the BBC for that matter,) is not the Voice of American (VOA). However with an ever growing Asian community in the UK, it is important that there should be voice that reflects this, their culture and their contribution to the UK as a whole. I am very surprised that a service that is as important to a large cultural ethnic community, as 6 Music is to a large music community has been allowed to be wound up and eventually closed down without a word of protest against its closure. This in itself is a sad development.