Review 2008: The BBC

Suggested by Franchesca.

Dear BBC,

I bloody love you.

A popular television website was looking for contributions to a review of the television year. After thinking about the five programmes I most enjoyed, I wrote some paragraphs and only at the very end did I realise that they'd all been broadcast on BBC channels, which is amazing considering I don’t watch very much television these days having long abandoned just simply sitting in front of anything in favour of dvds and PVRs and the right to choose. I only ever listen to BBC radio, mostly Radio 4, sometimes Radio 3, lately a bit of Radio 2. You keep me informed and interested in the world, a place you continue to be fascinated with, leaving me never less than entertained and surprised.

Then there is Sachsgate.

I know like everything I’ve loved, there’s some disappointment along the way, niggles, really, and I’m not going appreciate everything you do. I wish you’d return BBC Breakfast to its clever mid-90s heydays instead of trying to be a posh GMtv. I wish you’d decide what BBC Two is supposed to be doing – it shouldn’t just be the place for programmes that wouldn’t appear on BBC One as well as programmes that have or will. I wish you’d properly fund BBC Three so that it doesn’t have to fill most of its schedule with reruns and films. I wish you wouldn’t keep cutting BBC Four’s budget so that it can make more of the intelligent drama which has always been its hallmark.

I’ll leave my opinions about the answer phone messages to one side because I didn’t hear them broadcast in context and I can’t really be too po-faced about them since I still laugh like a drain at the Victor Lewis Smith prank calls from TV Offal, especially when he called Derek Nimmo in the middle of the night to tell him the Queen Mother had died (she hadn't yet).

What disappointed me about the affair was your reaction.

When the broadcast originally went out, there were a handful of complaints which is not too surprising. But it was still a non-story then, mostly because if someone trips over on the pavement in Eastenders, a view probably throws an invective at you for suggesting that Walford Council’s highways management department aren’t doing their job properly.

As this attached timeline from The Guardian describes, the story only gained traction when the Daily Mail became involved over a week after the original broadcast in a desperate attempt to fill one of their pages with words and probably a photo of Russell Brand looking unkempt. They contacted Andrew Sach’s agent; Sach’s initially had no comment and only when the Mail said they’d run the story anyway did you get a complaint. Story’s published, back filled with this complaint, and the rest is history.

There were a range of problems with the way the BBC handled the story, both internally and in relation to PR, though I’m sure there’s a lot that went on behind the scenes between people that isn’t even in the resulting report, and though some of that material portrayed those involved as being indicative of an uncaring broadcaster was only more or less packed with examples of the kind of knuckle-headed mental meandering which happens in the average office, and probably at the Daily Mail itself.

Media types tend to be cynical. They have to be.

What annoyed me was at no point did anyone at the BBC go on the attack and point out what this was really about – commercial organisations wounding the one rival who isn’t governed by commercial concerns at a time when newspaper circulations are falling and advertising revenues have dropped. The Daily Mail have been running stories like this for ages; Associated Newspapers seem to have a campaign against the corporation, using every opportunity to berate everything you do. Only today there’s a story …

It’s just that on this occasion they struck lucky and were able capture the lack of imagination in the audience who called seemingly on mass even though they hadn’t heard the original broadcast and probably only had the fragments of transcript published in the paper. It certainly didn’t help that BBC News were running the story too at some point and as a top story, even though the rest of the world was falling apart. I appreciate that this was so that you couldn’t be criticised for having a cover up or restriction of the news departments independence, but it seemed like an act of self harm which stretched on for days.

I can't say what effect all of this will have on the short term future of the corporation but in the long term, assuming this kind of thing keeps happening, it can only lead to what these media rivals want -- a weakening of the BBC so that is looks toothlessly faded and out of step with the consumer in comparison to its commercial rivals. I'll probably still love you, but wish you were taking far more risks.

Take care of yourself,


[Why am I doing this?]

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