BBC in the firing line for pandering to populism

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The Independent Online
THE critic and academic George Steiner has used the annual BBC Radio 3 Proms lecture to launch a devastating attack on the "wind of patronising populism" in the cultural life of Britain.

The criticism is likely to be interpreted as a calculated contribution to the debate on the future of Radio 3, which is the BBC's most expensive station and which has the smallest audience.

Nicholas Kenyon, the director of the Proms, who recently stood down as controller of Radio 3, where he had tried to reach new audiences, sat feet away as Professor Steiner criticised the tendency towards dumbing down.

Professor Steiner, a Cambridge academic, condemned the trend towards "10-minute snatches" of popular classics - as successfully broadcast by Radio 3's rival, Classic FM - instead of the performance of complete works.

He said listeners should be encouraged and supported in discovering classical works, whether music or drama.

Professor Steiner's intervention comes amid fears at the BBC that Radio 3 may be tempted down the Classic FM route. Mr Kenyon's departure followed criticism that he had diminished the high-brow station. But his defenders claimed he had strived to champion classical music at the BBC.

They said he despaired at having listener figures and the success of Classic FM rammed down his throat at every BBC review meeting.

A spokeswoman for Radio 3 pointed out that the lecture was organised by the station and they were "really pleased" to have secured Professor Steiner to deliver it. "Radio 3 is all about programming quality classical music and music in context, including trying to involve people who want to know more to listen to the network," she said. The professor had commented on the vitality of new music in Britain at present, and the BBC was "incredibly strong" on new music.

Mr Kenyon said that he thought the lecture was a "brilliant and passionate defence of the need to do difficult and demanding things but to explain them". And he added: "It wasn't a rather negative anti-populist argument which says 'let's just do difficult things and it doesn't matter whether anybody likes them or not'."

Mr Kenyon said the professor had supported what he had always tried to do - to broadcast serious music but help audiences understand it. "I think that is exactly what Radio 3 is about."