Janet-Street-Porter: The BBC is like the Titanic – going down fast

Editor at Large

Share

When Mark Thompson steps down as director- general of the BBC after the Olympics, who should replace him and what should they earn? Will a fresh face and a more palatable salary convince politicians and viewers that the corporation is in tune with austerity Britain?

I adore the BBC, spent years there as a senior executive, and have presented many shows for the corporation. Once, Mark Thompson (then controller of BBC2) turned up to thank me as I completed walking from Edinburgh to the Greenwich Observatory for a series for him. He was at the finishing line with a bunch of flowers. Mark is a deeply moral person, passionately committed to his job. He expects others to have the same standards, but working at this elevated level blinds you to life in the real world. You speak a special BBC lingo; these high-flying jobs have ludicrous titles, and political correctness has to be observed at all costs.

The longer you work at the BBC, the more afflicted you are by this Willy Wonka mentality, a secret feeling of superiority, as if you are on a unique God-given mission to entertain and inform the masses. BBC lifers like arts supremo Alan Yentob and Helen Boaden, director of news, have never worked anywhere else. Mark worked only briefly at Channel 4. In any other industry a lack of market experience would be seen as a huge disadvantage. The BBC cossets, insulates and ultimately castrates those who stay there too long.

Chris Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, wants the top brass to earn less, mindful of how badly their inflated salaries and pensions play with the Government and other BBC staff, thousands of whom face redundancy. With the licence fee frozen, the BBC is driving through cuts of 20 per cent (£670m a year) by 2016, and channels such as BBC3 and BBC4 are set to lose almost 10 per cent of their budget. Radio 4 is protected, but its digital spin-off channel Radio 4 Extra will lose 17.2 per cent of its funding. Over half of BBC2's schedule will be repeats – hard to stomach from a broadcaster who developed the iPlayer so viewers can watch anything they missed.

Last week, Chris Patten attended one of the pompous pointless media conferences where bigwigs love to make self-important pronouncements (the Oxford Media Convention), letting it be known that he wants Mark Thompson to scale back his proposed cuts of £15m to local radio and current affairs, which could see up to 280 job losses. Patten says he wants "more specialist and local content" on the radio, and regional television current affairs protected. Has he ever seen my local news, Look North, in Yorkshire? It is appalling, presented by a weird-looking bunch of people with zero charisma. At 10.15 it regularly features just three items covering a huge part of the UK. In Kent, South East Today has an equally random pick-and-mix agenda that tries and fails to cover a region ranging from wealthy bits of East Sussex to poverty-stricken Sheppey.

Local television current affairs should be culled. Leave it to newspapers and online coverage. As for local radio – just because bands of people complain, it doesn't mean these stations have a meaningful audience. The BBC is still guilty of massive over-staffing in news and current affairs. Why do we have to have a completely different hourly news bulletin on Radio 3 from Radio 4? News is news. Local bulletins are necessary only twice a day in drivetime. The current local regions are so large as to be pointless. Community radio and television broadcast online and staffed by special interest groups is the only way forward. That way I can watch my council meetings on my laptop.

As for the chance to appoint a woman to the top of the BBC, it's irrelevant. We need more women in middle management, not planted at the top of the pyramid of power. For years now I've complained about the male dominance in flagship radio and television programmes. An increasing number of media analysts (and female MPs) have looked at hours of output, and found that, in spite of all the hand-wringing and equal opportunities guff, men still rule the airwaves. In radio, only 15 per cent of the DJs are women, and Radio 2 has no women with children above the lowly rank of assistant producer. In one edition of the Today programme on Radio 4 last year, there was one female contributor compared with 27 men over a two-hour period. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey wants to set up a meeting between Mark Thompson and the female MPs who complain of gender bias, but it will achieve little.

The BBC took ages to admit it got executive pay "a bit wrong"' (according to Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer). Expect the same stonewalling over gender. What Patten can't understand is how to turn around the leaking Titanic that is the Beeb in 2012. The will for radical change doesn't exist – funny, when in the real world outside the BBC millions of people are losing their jobs at a stroke. Life is brutal and circumstances change without warning, but the BBC ploughs on in much the same way as it always has done.

Viewers moan about costly pointless trailers, yet we are still bombarded with the ruddy things for music and sport before the 10 o'clock news. Lack of women? They point to female executives, and their equalities unit. The head of BBC1 said there were "too many crime shows" – has anyone noticed any difference? The cuts are supposed to fund more programming. I question the quality of what is on offer, not the amount. Sherlock and Doctor Who might be popular, but hardly intellectual. Drama-lite, fast-moving twaddle with fancy gizmos and zero literary merit. Where's the challenging stuff? Why is it imported from Denmark?

Patten can change the top brass, but can he turn around the ship? A radical purge and the removal of at least half of its managers is essential, if the good ship BBC is not to sink under the weight of its own self-importance.

Polunin, Proietto and Putrov break the mould

The Three Tenors brought opera to an entirely new audience, using popular material performed in arenas, not concert halls. Can former Royal Ballet star Ivan Putrov do the same for ballet? His brilliant idea is an evening of spectacular dancing, Men in Motion. The biggest draw, after a tumultuous week in which he walked out of starring in the Royal Ballet's next production, was 21-year-old Sergei Polunin, in Narcisse, a spectacular tour de force that showed off his athleticism to perfection. Ivan Putrov is a lyrical performer, who, like Polunin, came to find the Royal Ballet too restricting. He is enchanting in a solo set to Gluck and in a new work, designed by Gary Hume, which he also choreographed. The show-stealer is the subtly hypnotic Daniel Proietto, in the beautiful AfterLife (Part One). The running order is a bit odd and the event needs to end on more of a high note, but it's a step in the right direction, and shows that classical ballet needn't focus around anorexic women in tutus. Ivan's concept can easily be expanded with other soloists and merits a wider audience. Polunin is ballet's next rock star.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Auditor

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: IT Auditor , Information Governance, NHS...

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform