In praise of the BBC

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I was listening to David Mellor earlier. After five minutes of telling the BBC exactly what they had got wrong and how they needed to improve he said “I am a friend of the BBC, I just want to stop them falling at the hand of their enemies”.

Really though? Really? I have been lucky enough to have been a friend to and been befriended by some amazing people over the years and I am comfortable in saying that not one of them, when the chips were down, would have gone on TV to tell the world exactly how I had been the author of my own demise”. A friend, in my book at least, might have that conversation with me in private, but to the world would be my champion.

I also count the BBC as friend, so this blog is dedicated to why I love it – and why you should too.

It is the first thing I listen to

Whether it is Jim, Jon, Sarah or Evan, I love waking-up to the Today programme. The show, on its own, delivers on Reith’s original mission to ‘educate, inform and entertain’. The joy doesn’t stop there however, I trust the whole of their news-output, from Breakfast to the (world-leading) website, to do the same. Sure they’ve made a couple of mistakes, but haven’t we all? When you put it up against phone-hacking, the crime of now showing a news-piece when you should have done (and then doing the opposite three-weeks later) seems a relatively minor one.

But the quality doesn’t start and end with news. The entertainment output is simply world-class. Don’t believe me? How many of you would have even thought about watching ball-room dancing a decade ago? Then we come to Drama, and again they are head and shoulders above any other UK broadcaster – from Spooks to Hunted, Waterloo Road to Holby, they deliver first-class programming for a huge range of audiences.

I was just thinking as I wrote the last paragraph and the BBC would be my organisation of choice for – news, drama, entertainment, spoken-word radio, music and (in terms of quality at least) sport. I don’t imagine any other broadcaster in the world could lay claim to that, yet I expect I am one of millions for the BBC.

The big moments

Weddings, funerals, elections, major-sporting events, in fact any moment of national significance, and it is the BBC we turn to. Why? Because no-one does it better. The Olympics reeled us in, not just because of the incredible athletes, but because of the incredibly story-tellers the BBC employed (and in many cases trained) to guide us through three weeks of triumph and disaster. This morning I turned on the TV and then later the Radio to watch/listen to the Remembrance Day commemorations – who else could do this?

Detractors of the BBC will tell you it is because they have a monopoly and far greater resources. Whilst this may be true in some respects (no-one else is willing to spend the money they do on news for instance), it isn’t always the case. The American broadcaster sent over five-times as many people to staff London 2012 than the BBC. Ask an American how that worked out for them.

They face-up to the things they’ve done badly

No-one gets it right all the time and the BBC are no different. What is different is everything they produce, from day-time dramas to Newsnight is held to a higher-level of scrutiny than other broadcasters. It is this level of scrutiny that, for me at least, has led them to being possibly the most transparent and accepting of blame of any major media outlet.

Just take a look at the Savile affair again. Entwistle had offered a full-apology within days of the story-breaking, whilst the Newsnight editor was removed from his role. Most impressively, the corporation opened themselves up for interrogation by their own shows. First Panorama, then Newsnight itself, investigated and reported to millions, the facts that led to the Savile decision. Not only that, Entwistle and other senior-execs did gruelling interviews both with their own and their competitors. Could you imagine Sky doing this? The Daily Mail? ITV?

If anything, in their keenness to stay ahead of public opinion they over-react. Entwistle first put himself at the mercy of Jon Humphreys and then resigned after only seven weeks in post for what was, ultimately, a couple of his editors being on the wrong-side of two very difficult judgement calls. Compare this to phone-hacking – how long did it take Rebecca Brooks to resign? Or the expenses-scandal (where some of the worst offenders are still serving MPs, whilst those who made genuine errors, find themselves bundled out of office).

The BBC should be looked at with some respect for how quickly and decisively they have acted.

They help deliver real and lasting change

Some of you’ll know I used to work for Comic Relief, so I feel personally indebted to the generosity of the BBC and their staff. Each ‘night of TV’ that is delivered as part of Red Nose Day or Sport Relief raises tens of millions of pounds. I imagine it is the same for Children In Need. More than the money raised on the night itself, the exposure through the campaign, helps inspire hundred of thousands of people to go out and fundraise. To date, Comic Relief has raised over £800 million pounds. That’s real money that helps save real lives. Without the BBC it is hard to imagine how the project would have even got off the ground.

They are just some of the reasons I love the BBC. Whenever they do something stupid or wrong, I line it up against all the good they do, all the quality programming they produce and remember there is no-one else even close.

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