BBC, Blair and others

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Barbarians threaten last refuge of intelligent television

Barbarians threaten last refuge of intelligent television

Sir: The barbarians are at the gates once again. Patrick Barwise, a "marketing professor", has reported to the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, that BBC4 "should broaden its appeal" ("BBC's digital channels are 'poor value' ", 14 October). No it should not. This pandering to populism has already stuffed BBC2 and much of Channel 4 with gormless "lifestyle" programmes and so-called reality TV. BBC4 remains the one refuge on television for those seeking stimulating documentaries, intelligent analysis of current affairs and in-depth coverage of the arts. Scheduling programmes which, in sequence, can bring us the news, a film about the affliction of oil on producer countries, a profile of a musician and a documentary on architecture reminds many of us of BBC2 in its eclectic 1960s David Attenborough heyday.

It is not the job of the BBC slavishly to satisfy popular appetites. Professor Barwise and Tessa Jowell should be painfully tattooed with these words of the BBC's first Director General, John Reith: "It is occasionally indicated to us that we are apparently setting out to give the public what we think they need - and not what they want - but few know what they want and very few what they need. In any case, it is better to overestimate the mentality of the public than to underestimate it. He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for lower standards which he himself will then satisfy"

Or, as our much-missed former BBC producer John Walters used to say, when justifying the Peel and Kershaw programmes to the spivs at Radio One, "We are not here to give people what they want but what they didn't know they wanted."

London N8

Blair has made the wrong apology

Sir: How long will Tony Blair go on using weaselly words to avoid the real issue?

He is not being asked to apologise for the faulty intelligence, or for removing Saddam Hussein from power. What he must apologise for is misrepresenting the intelligence reports and rushing this country into what is now plainly a disastrous, immoral and unnecessary war in which tens of thousands have died and a country has been pitched into chaos, and doing so against the wishes of the British people, the United Nations Security Council, the UN weapons inspectors and our European allies, while ignoring all sound advice to the contrary including that of his own intelligence services.

If he does not do this, then I can't see how he has any alternative but to immediately resign.

London NW3

Sir: I do not care a damn for any apologies from the Government about Iraq. What we need is an admission of gross misjudgment, incompetence and dishonesty, followed by resignations. Saying "sorry" is neither here nor there.

Kendal, Cumbria

Sir: What is it, exactly, that Tony Blair is admitting to having done when he says he is sorry for "mistakes in the pre-war intelligence"? It only makes sense to apologise if one has done something which one subsequently regrets.

Is he sorry for misrepresenting the intelligence to the public? No, for he vehemently denies having done this. Then can it be that he is sorry for misinterpreting the intelligence? Once again no, for Mr Blair has never so much as intimated that his judgement is faulty.

One cannot escape the conclusion that our Prime Minister's apology is a vicarious one, an apology on behalf of the intelligence services, who got it wrong - which is no apology at all.

Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Sir: Is there any prospect whatsoever of you and the rest of the media dropping this obsession with Blair apologising for the Iraq conflict?

Tiresome does not begin to describe it. Your leader (14 October) yet again tries to drive cigarette papers between interpretations of who might have said what to whom and when and in what context. I neither seek nor wish this irrelevant apology. I believe Blair to be a person of integrity and I do not believe he lied.

We are where we are. Can't we focus more positively on sorting it out and dealing with the big picture and stop angsting over the minutiae?

Saltford, Somerset

Sir: Charles Kennedy reiterates much of what he has been saying for the past two years, and concludes that it is time for some straight answers from the Prime Minister (Opinion, 14 October). He and his party were against the war from the start and hope that there is a lot of political capital to be made from this stance.

It would have been better if the removal of Saddam Hussein had been carried out by the United Nations, but the truth is that it was not and never would have been. Many resolutions condemning the old Iraq regime were carried, but when push came to shove national self interests would have prevented UN direct action.

There can be little doubt that Saddam's Iraq did pose a threat to peace in the troubled Middle East which would have impacted on the rest of the world. There can be no doubt of the brutality of the regime, as can be witnessed by the horror of the mass graves recently discovered in northern Iraq.

Would Mr Kennedy prefer that Saddam Hussein and his sons were still in power to continue their blood lust? It's about time we had a straight answer to that question.

Chippenham, Wiltshire

Sir: If we Brits had watched our head of state kill hundreds of thousands of our own people over two decades, having pregnant women and babies shot in the head then burying them in mass graves on the moors as a matter of routine, would we really give a toss whether another nation which invaded us to unseat that head of state was going to benefit from exploiting our resources?

I'm sickened by a British media and public who cannot see the wood for the trees. Whose side are they on?

Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire

Sir: So the war, with all its death, destruction and horror, was a Good Thing because it rid the world of a brutal dictator.

Who's next? The world is your oyster, Mr Blair.


Is Turkey European?

Sir: Your article and leader on the issue of Turkey's accession to the EU (7 October) hardly address what seems to me to be the critical question: by what criteria can Turkey be considered - culturally, historically and politically - to be part of Europe?

Turkey, the land, was for many centuries part of the Ottoman Empire, frequently in conflict with Europe right up to the 19th century. Its religion was different and opposed to that of Europe. In culture, population and political tradition it was more east-facing than western in outlook. Although the birth of Turkey as a nation-state was accompanied by the embrace of secularism, these old traditions have lingered. The military has frequently been involved in Turkish politics during the 20th century. From the Armenian massacre in 1915 to the ongoing struggles with the Kurdish population there have been repeated conflicts with ethnic groups within Turkey. Concern for human rights has been occasional rather than rooted.

Turkey does not seem remotely European in tradition or culture - yet its admission to the EU is thought to be just a matter of time. Needless to say, the European Commission is not interested in gauging European public opinion on the issue. But if Turkey is European, why stop there? Why not India, which seems to have more settled institutions of European origin? Why stop the indefinite, if reckless, expansion of the new European empire?

Lydney, Gloucestershire

Gap year rescued

Sir: Your article "Friedman's great-niece to target youthful apathy" (7 October) contained by implication some misinformation. Your reporter records discussions he had with Jessica Lever's fellow Year 13 sixth-formers at Watford Grammar School for Girls, and states: "Mr Blair will perhaps be best remembered as the man who denied them a gap year before university. All are going straight to college to avoid tuition fees."

On 23 June in the House of Commons the Government conceded an amendment to the Higher Education Act: that 2005 sixth form leavers wanting to take a gap year before entering university in 2006 would not be liable to variable (top-up) fees. It is incorrect to imply that this year group will have to pay top-up fees if they take a gap year. However, to qualify for the fees concession (which applies only to 2005 leavers, and not to subsequent year groups), they must apply for university through UCAS this year, request deferment of entry until 2006, and receive an offer of a university place by 1 August 2005.

Gap Year Fairs

Respect for the old

Sir: A thousand thanks to Janet Street-Porter for the clarity, accuracy and passion with which she presents her views on ageing and older people ("Why do we treat old people so badly", 14 October).

Like her, I don't have to worry about my health, lifestyle, security or income as I approach my 62nd birthday. I've retired from a very rewarding career, am not by any means rich but far from poor, am fascinated and fulfilled by this stage in my life, and above all, feel that I'm still a full member of society. In this I count myself very lucky - but I shouldn't. What I have should be the norm. Everyone should feel like a whole person, respected for who they are whatever their age or infirmity, and treated accordingly. What strikes me ever more powerfully is the courage and dignity that so many older people display in confronting their difficulties and sustaining their self-respect. Victims they are not, but that excuses nothing.

I'm driven almost to despair over the failure of our society to make a fundamental shift in attitude and behaviour towards ageing and older people. I say "almost" because Janet Street-Porter is right - the older voter is a powerful force. Older people are already the most active voters and, despite ageist views to the contrary, the most likely to critically review the manifestos presented to them. Articulate, confident, secure older people have a lot to offer to any serious campaign aimed at change. If Janet Street-Porter wants to lead one, I'll surely follow.

London SW20

'Private' prejudices

Sir: Rocco Buttiglione says, "I may think that homosexuality is a sin; this has no effect on politics unless I say that homosexuality is a crime" ("MEPs: 'homophobic' justice chief must quit", 13 October).

That is an absurd proposition from someone who aspires to be a European justice and home affairs commissioner. People, quite rightly, should be able mentally to harbour whatever views they like, however intolerant, vicious or silly those views. But if someone steps forward to assume a position of great public responsibility and power, then it can be important to know about his "private" opinions.

Law and policy are saturated with ambiguities. This means that prejudice can be exercised against groups by the way that law and policy are interpreted. So, there is a proper curiosity about any "private" axioms that dance about in the head of a justice commissioner.

Suppose Mr Buttiglione had said: "I may think that Jews, Protestants, and Muslims are not as civilised as Catholics; this has no effect on politics unless I say that they should be legally inferior". His unsuitability for office would be clear. Why then should his "private" prejudice against millions of Europeans be any more acceptable?

Professor of Law, The Open University, Milton Keynes

Aspiring no more

Sir: Describing Anthony Sher's despair at his exclusion by an elitist literary establishment, Katy Guest (report, 13 October) describes Sher's emergence "as an aspiring novelist, with four novels under his belt". How many novels does it take to shake off the "aspiring" tag? No wonder he has decided to give up writing novels.


Rio counts its blessings

Sir: I think we are blessed not to have any oil in Rio, only cocaine, otherwise it would be much worse ("The city of cocaine and carnage", 12 October). To the threat of drugs traffickers we would add Marines, SAS, Navy Seals and the like, eager to save our souls and restore democracy.

Rio de Janeiro

Beckham's brains

Sir: David Beckham said people didn't think he had the brains to deliberately get himself sent off against Wales. So those would be the same brains that thought it would be OK to boast about it then?


Sir: I wonder if it crossed the brain the England Captain claims he has how his selfish action (for which he has now apologised) might impress the members of the International Olympic Committee. Doubtless the state of English sportsmanship as exemplified by a captain will be a consideration in their decision whether to award the Games to London. He has failed his his country.

Richmond, Surrey

Mature consideration

Sir: I often find myself having to explain that my patients' mature-onset diabetes is nothing to do with age (letter, 14 October), but simply a reflection of maturity measured in kilograms.

Romford, Essex