BBC accused of putting antiques before ambition

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The Independent Culture

Shows about antiques and curios have become so commonplace on BBC television that they are making rare artifacts of the few programmes of genuine originality and ambition that remain in the daytime schedule.

The BBC Trust – the corporation's governing body – yesterday published pointed criticisms of the ubiquity of shows on what it termed "collectible hunting" which, along with property shows, proliferate on the BBC's biggest channels. The Trust said it would call on the BBC to improve the "quality and ambition" of the daytime output on BBC1 and BBC2 and report back to the governing body in the autumn.

At the same time it announced that 6 Music, the BBC digital radio station that had been earmarked for the axe, would be given a reprieve because "the case has not been made" for its closure.

That decision followed a passionate campaign by the station's listeners, who deluged the Trust with 25,000 emails praising 6 Music's distinctive programming. The Trust was unconvinced that consumers of daytime television output were similarly satisfied.

"Some viewers believe parts of our schedules lack quality and have become too weighted towards long-running factual entertainment strands with similar formats and covering similar subject areas, characterised as 'collectible hunting' and property," it said.

Although BBC1's Antiques Roadshow has been running successfully for 31 years and was given a revamp with the addition of presenter Fiona Bruce, it has been followed by a succession of similar BBC formats including Cash in the Attic, Car Booty, To Buy or Not to Buy and Bargain Hunt.

The criticisms were made in an interim review of the performances of BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4.

"The biggest single issue for audiences is that there is not programming which is 'fresh and new' to meet their expectations," said the governing body, which was particularly frustrated by BBC2's failure to differentiate itself from BBC1.

Further disappointment was expressed by the Trust in the BBC annual report, also published yesterday. "The BBC's most pressing priority is to provide output that is distinctive and creative since audience expectations in this area are still not being met," it said.

It implored BBC management to use the licence fee to "take more risks with new, distinctive programming and be more ambitious".

The Trust voiced concern that BBC3, which is aimed primarily at a young audience, lacked presence on the internet. "We note that use of the channel's online and multiplatform offerings remains relatively low and we will seek further clarification of the role of online for BBC3," it reported.

The Trust reiterated concerns that the BBC needed to do more to interest young people in current affairs, particularly "those from lower income households". It said: "Engaging all audiences with news is central... and, while certain programmes such as Radio 1's Newsbeat and the BBC1's 8pm Update have helped to some extent, this challenge remains a major one." Jana Bennet, the BBC's director of television, expressed gratitude that the Trust had elsewhere acknowledged "the excellent work that the BBC's television channels are already doing".

She said: "There is always more we can do and I am pleased that the plans we have outlined in our submissions have been endorsed by the Trust."

The annual report disclosed that the top 15 BBC executives were paid £4.76m last year, up from £4.6m in 2008-09. The total amount spent on talent fell marginally, from £229.2m to £221.5m.

BBC Asian Network, another digital radio station identified for closure, has not escaped. The BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, said he was prepared to consider a "formal proposal" for the winding up of the network, though he emphasised that it must be accompanied by a proposition for meeting the needs of the station's audience on other parts of the BBC's output.

The saving of 6 Music was welcomed. The British Phonographic Industry said the station makes "a unique contribution to the UK's cultural life". The Music Publishers Association praised its role in spotting new talent: "The decision to save 6 Music will be particularly welcomed by those young up-and-coming bands and songwriters to whom the station has been so important."

Proving the point? Yesterday morning's BBC1 schedule

09:15 Estate We're In,

Neighbour of the year, Silla 'Supergran' Carron, takes up the challenge of transforming a Bristol estate that's lost its sense of community.

10:00 Homes under the Hammer

Martin Roberts and Lucy Alexander visit two houses that have been sold at auction to find out who bought them and what they paid.

11:45 Cash in the Attic

Series looking at whether household junk could be worth a small fortune.

12:15 Bargain Hunt

A team of IT colleagues take on forensic anthropologists at Derby University Antiques Fair.