The shock of the newish

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The Independent Online
It seems I can't turn my back for five minutes without them getting up to some mischief. No sooner were the bucket and spade packed than the rumours began to fly - The Archers to be relocated to a council estate outside Dudley, Melvyn Bragg to be publicly lobotomised, Woman's Hour to be turned over to letters from Penthouse readers' wives. It cast a shadow over the entire holiday, knowing that as soon as I returned I would have to call James Boyle into my study and subject him to rough handling about the schedules.

But, as we now know, the changes to Radio 4 weren't nearly as traumatic as anybody expected. This is partly a tribute to Mr Boyle's astute planning - changes announced well in advance, with abundant provision of free help-lines and bereavement counselling between now and next April. But it must come, too, from a widespread recognition that large swathes of Radio 4's present output have nothing to recommend them but familiarity. No one can be much aggrieved at the disappearance of Weekending, Kaleidoscope, Sport on 4, Breakaway or The Afternoon Shift - all of them afflicted by some permutation of drift, fatigue and self-indulgence (though on those grounds you have to wonder why Ned Sherrin survived the purge, unless it's the high cost of silver bullets).

There are only three real reservations about Boyle's proposals. The first is the slashing of Start the Week to half an hour - "more focused" says the publicity, missing the essential point that it's the range of ideas which makes it such a fine programme. The second is the abolition of drama over an hour long - listeners may well have short attention spans, but a public broadcasting system should take that as a challenge, not a limitation. The third is that Radio 4 is going to need a lot of new programmes, and it's hard to see where the new talent is going to come from in a demoralised, redundancy-hit BBC.

On the whole, though, it's hard to see why young Boyle was at such pains to avoid my personal wrath. Of course, he may not have been thinking of me at all - though in that case, why was my invitation to the press conference announcing the new schedules delivered two hours after the conference had begun? But a tendency to see the world in purely egocentric terms is a journalistic hazard - which brings us to Fergal Keane.

After Letter to Daniel, his banal and inexplicably popular outpourings to his newborn son, wags at Broadcasting House suggested that his next project would be Notes to My Milkman. At his best, he is unquestionably very, very good; but at his worst - as this week, kicking off a new series of the foreign correspondents' forum Points of View (Radio 4, Wednesday) - he can be regrettably self-romanticising and painfully Literary.

Here, we got some uncritical gush about his own desire to pursue truth and justice and stand up for the little man (as opposed, you gathered, to most other foreign correspondents). Then, a little later, we heard him at a mass grave in Rwanda, declaring: "It is as if all the good and life in the atmosphere had been sucked out and replaced with the stench of evil." Perhaps one should be impressed by the ability to stand back from terrible events that this second-rate poetry suggests; but it also suggests a propensity to interpose himself between those events and the listener, an urge to editorialise when that's the last thing needed. Facts find their own voice; it's that voice we ought to hear, not the reporter's.