The Barons ‘B’, Barnes and Birkenhead, have their feet firmly under the table. The Baronial table that is. The one that has Jessica Cecil standing guard outside to protect the duo from the wilder excesses of their fiefdom.
The Baron Barnes, better known as Chris Patten, or Pang Ding-hong as the Chinese called him, has long been used to exalted position. He has been ensconced in one comfortable sinecure after another, ever since he lost his parliamentary seat in Bath. Governor of Hong Kong, European Commissioner, now Chairman of the BBC Trust. He has long since given up any pretence of being ‘a man of the people’.
The Baron Birkenhead, on the other hand, came bounding into his first day in his new fiefdom yesterday as plain ’Tony Hall’, man of the people. Ignore all that stuff about him being ‘culturally elite’, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House; he was keen to display his credentials at the new Director-General of the BBC as one of being down-wi-da-youf. Wasn’t he once a trainee reporter for BBC Belfast? A Producer for World at One; didn’t he launch News 24?
‘He’s one of us’, went the cry at BBC headquarters, as he spoke:”I am confident about the future for the BBC for two key reasons: the calibre and quality of its people and the values we all share.”
He tried to become Director-General once before and failed; went off to run the Royal Opera House. Now he returns in triumph.
We’ve had an earlier Director-General who was ‘a man of the people’ in the 1960s. Hugh Green. He changed the whole tone of the BBC from its lofty Reithian upper middle class values, to a dumbed down publicly funded entertainment channel that drove Mary Whitehouse barmy. Some of the nitty gritty programmes such as ‘Up the Junction’ were classics of their genre, and rightly applauded; but he also introduced Radio One, along with its motley collection of over-sexed DJs, and ‘Til Death Us Do Part’ – a programme that the BBC would not dare to show today. It became a BBC that lauded the regional accents, the more impenetrable the better; dressed its presenters in multi-coloured sweaters to look like Slovakian refugees, and believed that it could only compete by aping the commercial channels obsession with sex and violence. It’s nadir was surely Jonathan Ross asking David Cameron whether he had masturbated whilst thinking of Margaret Thatcher.
Was this really the ‘inform, educate, and entertain’ ethos that we were forced to pay £145.00 a year for?
We’ve been fed carefully planted stories in the media to suggest that the BBC is ‘cutting costs’ in recognition of the new age of austerity. Indeed, we were told that Mark Thompson had taken a pay cut. He might have done, but the new boy is getting a rise. From a lowly £250,000 a year (though he did manage some ‘add-ons’!) for screwing 28 million out of an unwilling public, to £450,000 for screwing £5 billion a year out of an even more unwilling public. It doesn’t seem much of an increase for overseeing such a vastly increased budget to me.
The Baron Hall of Birkenhead’s new office is on the fourth floor of Broadcasting House right next to the sprawling news room. A room full of giant egos, and bruised feelings that will make the prima-donnas of the Royal Opera House seem like pussy-cats in comparison. A room that has lost the trust of the British public, that is unsure whether it is in the business of sensationalism, a la the debacle of Newsnight’s Lord MacAlpine non-naming, or whether it should be the calm voice in the storm of digital and dead tree ‘race to the death’ of keyword chasing. Is it trying to out-Guido Guido with the latest political gossip; is it the voice of the ‘oppressed and vulnerable’ working hand in hand with the child protection agencies to do the work of the Police; is it the unofficial opposition party; or is it the old fashioned father figure to the news hungry nation – the last bastion of investigative journalism that the commercial boys can no longer afford. Analysing the wilder excesses of the internet and excitable politicians, giving us truth and facts where others deal in supposition and speculation?
Imagine a news service that NEVER employed the words ‘might’, ‘could be’, ‘it is feared that’, ‘campaigners claim that’; would you really mind paying 40p a day for such a reliable trustworthy service? Boring, for sure. Way down in the ratings – and why should it even appear in the ratings? But a ‘verified Wikipedia’, a place where you could be sure that what you read had actually occurred, and here were the facts. Mind you, he’d have to heave half of the current intake of journalists out of that fourth floor window to achieve that; far too set in their tabloid ways. Personally, I’d pay a voluntary licence fee if he did so.
Why it would be the sort of news service that people would risk their lives tuning into in war time conditions; the sort of news service that the BBC was once lauded for providing!