You won't get far in politics unless you use 'accessible' as a tag on anything you want to foist on the public

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The Independent Online

Each year, it seems, produces its own buzz word. The jargon favoured today by everyone from politicians to media barons and from community leaders to advertising hot shots is "accessible". Once accessible simply meant that one opened a door and gained access. Or provided a ramp for people in wheelchairs. But accessible has been purloined by those at the centre of the political whirl as an adjective synonymous with "desirable". You won't get far in politics unless you use "accessible" as a tag on anything you want to foist on the public, be it arts policies, new television programmes or an expensive, lottery-funded, public building. Accessible is a justification for something's very existence. By the same token, if something is "inaccessible" it must be up-market, not part of the mainstream, tilted in favour of a chosen few, or just plain snobbish.

Each year, it seems, produces its own buzz word. The jargon favoured today by everyone from politicians to media barons and from community leaders to advertising hot shots is "accessible". Once accessible simply meant that one opened a door and gained access. Or provided a ramp for people in wheelchairs. But accessible has been purloined by those at the centre of the political whirl as an adjective synonymous with "desirable". You won't get far in politics unless you use "accessible" as a tag on anything you want to foist on the public, be it arts policies, new television programmes or an expensive, lottery-funded, public building. Accessible is a justification for something's very existence. By the same token, if something is "inaccessible" it must be up-market, not part of the mainstream, tilted in favour of a chosen few, or just plain snobbish.

I believe in high art, which, by its nature, will be inaccessible to an uneducated mass. Without light and shade, the difficult as well as the straightforward, our cultural life would be bland. I worry about the current fashion which places accessibility above all else. In a discussion about arts funding on Radio 3 last week, the moral philosopher Mary Warnock argued that art could be both élitist and accessible to anyone, acknowledging that accessibility was this government's criterion for distributing money to the arts, under the banner "Arts for Everyone". This concept is both patronising and doomed. Arts funding should not be based on the number of people who visit galleries or museums. There has to be a place to value the scholarly, the small-scale and the obscure. Why do Labour politicians link funding with education via accessibility? It's almost as depressing as the Conservative approach to the arts, which rated the old over the new.

It's not often that I agree with the Duke of Edinburgh, but when he was quoted last week as saying "the more accessible you become, the more ordinary you become" he had a point. It was just a coincidence that a picture of his grandson cleaning a toilet in Chile has recently appeared in the press. Prince Philip has a vested interest in trying to preserve what little mystique the Windsors still have.

Another area where accessible is disturbingly over-used is education. David Blunkett announced a new "foundation degree" last month to increase the number of young people in higher education. He wants to make university more accessible to people who, up to now, have been under-represented there. One could be cruel and say that perhaps they were not accepted because they were ill educated, but that doesn't sit well in our politically correct climate. Degrees will come in all shapes and sizes, accessible to all, so no one feels left out. So much for the pursuit of excellence, soon we shall all be amazingly over-qualified and multi-skilled, ready to take our places in the new, accessible Blair Britain.

In Scotland, a Golf Tsar was announced last week in order to make the game accessible to young people. (The average age at the moment is 60.) This is a laudable goal, but why should golf, like low-grade degrees, suddenly be seen as something we all need to be able to "access"? The rot doesn't stop there. Lorraine Heggessey, the new BBC1 controller, has said in interviews that her goal is to make the channel, including the news, "more accessible". I presume that this philosophy lay behind the recent reorganisation of correspondents in television news which resulted in the not-so-attractive being shunted to radio or late-night bulletins. Having a cute face when you report from a war zone or the Ministry of Defence doesn't make the news more "accessible". Surely it's the knowledge and authority of the presenter which make compelling viewing. We already have glamorous women reading the news on Sky, so why does BBC1 feel the need to follow suit? Clear use of language, concise explanation and impartial reporting are what we expect from BBC news. Accessibility is a distraction from the fundamentals.

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