The week on radio

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A friend of mine once flirted with anarchism, but stopped going to meetings because, he said, they never got down to discussing anything: the whole evening got taken up with people apologising to each other and insisting that they didn't want to impose an agenda on anybody. I don't know if anarchist meetings really are like that - going by the anarchists assembled on Freedom Radio (Radio 3, Sunday), it seems unlikely, since they were all too aware of the potential for caricature and concerned with promoting direct action. But it is certainly true that anarchism is too floppy and diffuse to be reduced to rigid structures, and this didn't make life easy for Christopher Cook as he roamed around Britain and the US talking to contemporary anarchists.

Cook and his producer, Mark Burman, had found an impressive set of interviewees, many of them dredged up using the Internet, illustrating the huge variety and range of anarchist activities, from tree-hugging to running radio stations, from Moscow to San Francisco.

The common thread was a distrust of the state and its evil twin, the corporation: what the modern anarchist wants is not life without regulation, but life on a smaller scale - political power concentrated at a local level. Much of what they said sounded not simply attractive, but downright incontrovertible. After all, who doesn't think the Millennium Dome is a white elephant? But, hey, it's the anarchists who went out there and climbed up the cranes to try and keep it from happening.

In the end, though, Freedom Radio made for frustratingly confusing and inconclusive listening. With so much to cover, and with huge gaps in the account presented of the anarchist tradition, it became hard at times to see what put these people in the same programme.

It did, however, raise the question of why anarchist radio has flourished in America but not in Britain. (Anybody who knows different, please write.) Mark Burman's theory is that, apart from strict enforcement of broadcast licensing laws, the BBC has killed the need for it by providing enough intelligent political analysis and a wide enough range of views to take the lid off the people's simmering rage. That sounds plausible; maybe we should add that the BBC, big, ogreish corporation that it is, has given house-room to plenty of mavericks over the years: there's space for them to slosh around in Broadcasting House.

This week, though, the dearth of mavericks - in fact, of anything very interesting - has rather got me down. Maybe this is just Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it will all look rosier when the clocks go back. Even in high summer, though, it would be hard to fight the sheer tedium of Watch Out for the Jellyfish (Radio 4, Tuesday), in which Michael Portillo visited his mother's home-town of Kirkcaldy to show us round the scenes of boyhood holidays and demonstrate his utter lack of a sense of humour. Few programmes have lived up to their titles so completely; except that a jellyfish can sting. If this was the start of Michael Portillo's attempt to win his way back into public favour, William Hague can breathe a sigh of relief.

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