I fear I dumbed down BBC, says chairman

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The Independent Online

Gavyn Davies, the BBC's chairman who caused an outcry by branding the corporation's critics as "white, middle-class and middle-aged" has conceded that some concerns about the corporation dumbing down are justified.

"I don't dismiss the criticisms," he told The Independent on Sunday. "If it is said that we are filling the schedules with stuff that is not distinctive and overlaps too much with the commercial sector I am wholly sympathetic. It doesn't mean it's always justified, but I am sympathetic."

Mr Davies said his own objections were to "filler programmes that are done rather cheaply and reproduce genres available in other spheres". He added that the new schedule announced last week was intended to address that criticism and that middle-class viewers and listeners were "the heartland of the BBC".

Asked about his earlier choice of words, Mr Davies said: "I should have known better. I am irritated with myself for allowing a few words to distort my message. This is a job in which the bear traps surround you."

But he accepted that concerns about standards are widespread. "If the accusation of dumbing down is becoming a frequent and mainstream attack from people I respect then, yes, I am worried about it," he said.

A plain-speaking, former merchant banker with strong connections to New Labour, Mr Davies succeeded Sir Christopher Bland as chairman last year. He is a strong believer in the licence fee and the principle of the BBC serving all audiences. The BBC cannot ignore people who are switching off. He has used young Asians in the North as an example of people who need more out of the BBC. "We need to increase our reach if we are to continue to justify the licence fee."

His confidence about funding is not widely shared in broadcasting circles, nervous at the impact of digital television and a multi-channel environment. But he predicts that it will still be the funding scheme for the next two decades. "For all the contradictions of the BBC, it can offer something special in terms of quality and distinctiveness that no commercial broadcaster ever could."

Mr Davies's wife is Sue Nye, Gordon Brown's political secretary. "She probably thinks I needed some spin-doctor advice," he says. "I didn't know this was a job where I'd be treated like a politician. Maybe I'll say less interesting things in the future."

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