Right of Reply: Roger Graef
The Oxford University media professor and award-winning filmmaker replies to a comment piece in our Business pages recommending the privatisation of the BBC
Thursday 09 September 1999
While the BBC gains from being run on a more businesslike basis, this concept has already gone too far. The absurdities of internal markets in which producers use shops rather than BBC libraries for music, and avoid archive footage because of high search fees and charges, are symptoms of a failure to recognise the value of creative waste.
This does not involve committees, suits and expensive "Awaydays", but a willingness to take risks, and invest in extra research, filming and editing, so that ideas can be tried out and rejected. Instead, the bottom- line culture driven by media moguls measures the easily measurable: ratings, advertising, and profits.
To them, programmes are not cultural events potentially enhancing the quality of life, but "products", linked directly to output measured as ratings. Costs are squeezed in the name of efficiency instead of the more elusive notion, quality. Big money is spent only on safe bets such as costume dramas, popular films, costly presenters and comics, rather than on creative or journalistic risks and new talent.
That Viacom has bought CBS, making it another global media giant, is why we must keep the BBC free of inappropriate commercial pressures. It is another reason not to privatise it, rather than the other way around.
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