Dear Liz Forgan: After the decision to drop children's programmes from Radio 5, a reprimand for the BBC's head of radio from the Independent's media editor

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
When you joined the BBC to be its official head girl we all cheered. You were a wholesome breath of fresh air amid the Armani suits and (one) false leg. But after this week's callous decision virtually to abandon children's programmes on radio, a public service duty if ever there was one, I'm beginning to have serious doubts.

Uncharitable thoughts surface. Perhaps you don't value children's programmes because you have no children? Certainly your former colleagues at Channel 4 regard you as unsympathetic to family issues. And have we not been here before? When you were programme director of Channel 4 you seemed to prefer buy-ins such as Little House On The Prairie: it is only on your departure that your successor has started to commission new children's programming.

Now I'd be the first to admit that the output on Radio 5, which has only been going three years, does not reach all that many children, my own included. But this is a dangerous argument. Radio 3 doesn't attract many of the people who listen to classical music either, but nobody dares to swing the axe at it.

The Late Show is unwatched by all except nocturnal arts-lovers because it is, well, late. Janet Street-Porter's 'yoof' programmes are not that effective either at bringing in the 16- to 24-year-olds, but nobody shrugs and says let them watch videos.

But then Radio 5, like some ill-tended orphan, has never been properly treasured. Its big, well-funded brother, BBC Children's Television, should have taken it under its wing. There could have been trails for the evening story at the end of Blue Peter, or television competitions whose winners are declared on Radio 5.

But of course, Liz, you are not a free woman, you had to make space for more news, while satisfying sports-mad executives. So Radio 5 is being recast as Radio for Blokes. And children, sad to say, are an easy target.

Children don't write fierce articulate letters to Feedback, organise marches on Broadcasting House or brief lawyers. But beware: they do grow up to become licence-fee payers.

Is it wise and is it right for the BBC to leave children to enjoy their real loves, television, videos, video games and, increasingly, satellite television, hoping that Radio 1 will scoop them up to Auntie's bosom a bit later? The answer, from the most powerful person in British radio, should have been an emphatic 'no'.

One final thought: if BBC radio does not make children's programmes, who else will? What better test for a public service?

(Photograph omitted)

Comments