Sun 9 Oct 2011
The cuts announced by the BBC have caused a lot of concern for those employed by the nation’s public service broadcaster. The Licence Fee is a unique way of funding, some argue it to be anachronistic and tax-like in these modern times but it supposedly serves to keep the BBC as a public service broadcaster.
The possibility that the BBC’s local radio stations are under threat from these cuts and a review exercise brings the unpleasant possibility that its excellent coverage of county cricket may fall under the axe. If that happens then I believe that the BBC will have completely lost the right to call itself a public service broadcaster and should lose the Licence Fee completely.
The BBC does a lot wrong. Paying Jonathan Ross obscene amounts of money to make knob gags being one. Not bidding for the rights to show test cricket on television is another. There are things that need to be changed at the BBC. However, it must be said that the BBC does at least a few things right. Its coverage of county cricket on the radio and over the internet is excellent.
Local correspondents who know the game and the important issues for the counties yet provide impartial and excellent analysis. You don’t have to be Welsh to enjoy Edward Bevan’s commentaries of Glamorgan games. You don’t have to be a Londoner to enjoy Mark Church’s commentaries of Surrey games. You don’t have to be an Essex boy or Essex bird to enjoy Dick Davies’s commentaries of Essex games. Because of their knowledge and ability to communicate you feel more of an attachment to and involvement with the team. You come away feeling that you have added to your cricketing knowledge. When a follower of the game for over 30 years (which Yates is) says that, then they are getting something very right.
The commentators engage with their listener base; Thanks to Mark Church and Johnny Barran of BBC London, Yates has learned much about his new county, Surrey over the course of the season. Thanks to Dick Davies of BBC Radio Essex, Yates learned of the lively discussions about the possible end of the Southend Festival. Thanks to Edward Bevan of BBC Radio Wales, Yates has learned lots about Glamorgan and its players over the years.
That is Reithian broadcasting at its finest. Educational, informing and entertaining. And helping to foster a sense of and reach out to the community. As England fast bowler Steve Finn says “County cricket commentary is an integral part of sport reaching the wider community”
Those who follow Mark Church on Twitter will know something of the miles, out of hours work and effort he puts in to bring commentary to us. The same is surely true of the other BBC county cricket commentators. Essex CCC and Dick Davies confirm the efforts of the commentators in a statement here. To bring that kind of commitment needs a serious love for the game as well as for broadcasting. Why would you discard that work and that effort unless you are utterly ignorant of it and those who follow it?
Too many people cannot look past the allegedly “mainstream” BBC radio stations and television without realising how much local stations bring to communities. Let the cuts fall on rubbish like the One Show, BBC Four, Radio 1 and the interminable phone in “discussions” on Radio Five Live. The proliferation of phone in programmes confirms my belief that they are cheap broadcasting. And so often broadcasting at its worst. Nothing to do with Reithian values. Not educational, not informative and damn sure not entertaining. Nauseating, irritating and vile come to mind.
There has been a fair amount of rubbish spouted by Premiership football fans about the cuts and the possible threat to cricket. Yates can reach more people this way so here’s my response to them. This may come as a real shock to some of you so I’ll say it loudly and clearly:
Football doesn’t rule the world for everyone.
So Premiership football should bear some of the cuts as well – its coverage in the media seems to be everywhere so it is overprovided for. Why should the BBC waste its resources providing something that is already being provided by others? What unique selling points do the BBC commentators have that others don’t?
Allan Green’s cynicism and moaning about referees is hardly unique. Like Jonathan Ross’s knob gags you can find someone to do that in almost every pub in the land. Mike Ingham’s impression of Deep Purple’s “No No No” when Romania scored their final goal to beat England in the European Championships a few years back was the worst Purple cover I’ve ever heard. There’s nothing remotely special here. Why should Premiership football be spared from this cost-cutting exercise? When we cricket followers get to dictate how the FA conducts its affairs, you can tell us how to keep our house in order.
Let’s have a quick comparison:
When was the last major trophy won by the England football team? 1966 and a semi final in the European Championships.
When was the last major trophy won by the England cricket team? 9 Ashes series wins since 1970/71, World T20 champions, World ranked #1 in test cricket and 3 times World Cup finalists since 1979.
Where do the players to win test matches come from? County cricket. Anyone saying “South Africa” can read my piece about that then go and watch something mindless on BBC1.
Public service broadcasting is an ethos which the simple outlook of accountants cannot understand. It isn’t about simple profit and loss, ditching the things that they say aren’t pulling the revenue in. Public service broadcasting means not providing something when it is already well provided for elsewhere. The BBC’s commitment to televised sport has decreased with its loss of boxing, televised cricket and most recently the sharing of Formula 1. Is this now extending to radio as well?
Looking At The Business View
It is Yates’ experience that when the axe is poised at businesses, the accountants, directors and middle managers have already identified their targets with the sole intention of keeping their own nests feathered. Been there, seen it. If you don’t like that opinion then too bad. Why shouldn’t the (almost certainly well-paid) middle management fat take some of the cuts as well? Just a suggestion. Organisations can only become leaner with less middle management fat and top heaviness. If you empower employees to do more, the need for lots of middle management lessens.
Iain Dale’s view of things is interesting. As a broadcaster he’s well placed to give an opinion. And it is a very critical opinion. BBC Radio Five Live’s Shelagh Fogerty also opines on an encounter with Mark Thompson and is equally critical.
The BBC Trust have launched a consultation into the future of BBC Local Radio. On the proposed BBC cuts Iain Dale says that local radio is going the same way as local television, i.e. there isn’t any now when there used to be. DCTWO is a cricket blog so Yates isn’t going to wade into the debate about local radio but be clear on this – ITV is now a generic channel, bereft of identity nationally and locally. It never used to be. The BBC should not head down that path.
If you want to do something to keep county cricket commentaries on BBC local radio, if you believe in local radio, if you want to tell the BBC it’s got its head up its **** (one of the slightly less blunt opinions Yates heard on the Tube yesterday) and point out areas where these cuts can be better made then please respond to the consultation and write to the BBC Trust.
The BBC may still enjoy a majority of public support for the way it is funded. That support will soon wither if it starts cutting the things that make it a public service broadcaster. Once that happens, the Licence Fee’s days are surely and deservedly numbered.