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Tories ask: Why BBC3, BBC4?

Is this the wrong question?

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Conservative culture front bencher Jeremy Hunt is asking what’s the point of BBC3 and BBC4? It’s a good time to ask the question. In an interview with the Independent, Hunt queried why £100m was being spent, merely to attract "very, very small" audiences.

This is some way short of calling for the channels to be scrapped, as reported today. In fact, Hunt said exactly the same thing last September. It’s also less than the £172m the BBC overspent on three building projects (one of which is the £1bn – that really is billion - makeover of Broadcasting House), the National Audit Office reported last week. But it is a slow week for news.

Last week the BBC tried to pre-empt Tory cuts with a strategy review that committed to Reithian goals (ie quality programming) but which left as little as possible unchanged. 6Music was a token sacrificial lamb – and quite a badly chosen one. So Hunt is simply pointing out the obvious. The two channels are an expensive administrative overhead, if the goal is simply to have more quality.

Both channels broadcast only in the evenings, and only on digital. BBC4 is the corporation’s arts ghetto, set up to take the traditional highbrow programming away from BBC2, leaving it clear for cookery and makeover shows. While BBC3 is supposed to be ... well, what exactly? The remit is to be ‘populist’ and attract young viewers, but since BBC staff rarely venture further north than Muswell Hill, it’s a strange mix of somebody’s idea of what ordinary people might like who has been away a long time, with the emphasis on the demotic. For example the ‘comedy’ has lots of swearing, to cover up the lack of wit.

There’s a funny echo from history here. North London BBC execs have great difficulty trying to imagine who a Daily Express reader might be. Churchill had the same problem.

In his memoirs, Anthony Burgess (who was raised in a Moss Side pub) describes how during World War 2, Churchill would try and engage with the working class. Having no idea who they were, or what they liked, the Prime Minister imagined that they swore a lot, so he’d steam into a crowd effing and blinding. The result was near riots.

Bootnote

Those buildings again, as this really is an astonishing expenditure on the public dime, that not even professional Beeb-bashers seem to have noticed. The Salford Quays megacity comes in at £877m, housing just 2,500 staff. It isn’t really near anywhere, but the plan is for it to become a "destination". The Broadcasting House renovation was no better, coming in five years late at well over a billion quid. As the Audit Office drily pointed out: "The BBC is not well placed to demonstrate value for money from the £2bn it has committed to spending on the three projects over their life."

As I wrote last week, I suspect that many grumblers don't really dislike the BBC - it's just the Beeb now provides so many reasons for people to dislike its behaviour. ®

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