The Bottomley line on taste - a reply

The Heritage Secretary, Virginia Decently, evidently believes there is some right-thinking consensus which should be enshrined in the next BBC charter.

Where, when we need it, is the headline "Oh, Ginny!", annually emblazoned during the Wimbledon years of la Wade of that ilk? The sporting allusion is provoked by the minister herself. She quotes a child psychiatrist, "that while less than 1 per cent of football involves scoring goals, it's the goals people remember".

Let's think through this analogy: if the endlessly repeated highlights major on goals, then of course people remember them. But a spectator attending a match rather than seeing television's distorted account remembers the totality, the ebb and flow, the architecture.

The tediously recurring argument about taste and decency is the same. Look at a tasteless/indecent extract and it's an abomination; see it in context and, well, it's contexted.

Mrs Bottomley invokes the idea of protecting children to further her argument. It's so sanctified a notion that politicians know they can whisper it and have the Tory conference on its feet. But hang on, what was that about feet? Wasn't it something about "standing on your own two ..."? Aren't we to have less government, not more? A deregulated broadcasting system?

When it's crime or feckless youth, then these ministers blame the parents. Could we please have the same approach to television? The child must be taught not to poke fingers into the electric socket, not to apply matches to the gas and, I submit, not to watch the telly when Mummy or Daddy says "no".

Why does my childless (thank you for asking) viewing have to be neutered because my friends are too feeble to set their kids a few house rules?

The BBC frankly sold the pass by proposing that parents "share" (their word) responsibility for what their children see. Excuse me, but aside from the area labelled Children's BBC, the Corporation bears no responsibility for the fact that parents use the box as an unpaid babysitter, any more than the new American suppliers of your electricity deserve to be fingered if your kid goes changing the light bulbs.

We all want the output to be better. I have never felt compelled to watch so little. But everything in broadcasting's history that has reduced its creativity, nerve and confidence - advertising, levies, political pressure, proliferation of channels, "downsizing", production quotas, Marmaduke Hussey, suburban notions of propriety - has been imposed on the medium by a Tory government.

Now a Tory minister is going to insert a vaguely worded wedge into the BBC's constitution, upon which any number of reactionary forays against programme-makers will be built.

She also wants "an impartiality clause" in the BBC charter. What exactly is an impartial approach towards the UN involvement in Bosnia? How can statute frame a position of impartiality on the matter of paedophilia or insurrection or the ownership of motor cars?

I should try to be partial to Virginia Bottomley but I can't: isn't she just the spit of the girl we all hated at school, and didn't you just know even then that she would end up ruining your telly?

W STEPHEN GILBERT

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