Thankful but Unhappy: What the BBC Could Learn from Neil MacGregor

Article excerpt

A History of the World in 100 Objects

Radio 4

So A History of the World in 100 Objects concluded (22 October, 9.45am) with the final arte-fact, a solar-powered lamp and charger, invaluable particularly to those women previously forced to cook by sulphur dioxide-emitting kerosene. It was typical of the presenter and British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, to end the series, notable for its compassion, thus.

But equally notable is this statistic: not only have ten million podcasts of the series been downloaded so far, but over half of those have been downloaded from abroad, listeners having followed the series on the BBC World Service. Further evidence that the station's influence is profound. The news on 20 October that, from 2013, WS funding will be absorbed into the licence fee, freeing the Foreign Office from having to pay [pounds sterling]275m a year to sustain it, led to sombre meetings at the station about the now unavoidably catastrophic cuts it will have to make, while also somehow growing its remit as a "multi-platform outlet".

What does all this mean in real terms? I have already mentioned in this column the confirmed cancellation of both Proms and Wimbledon coverage, drama and World of Music--all announced before this latest tranche of cuts. Even 4 per cent further annual cuts will entail pulling out of certain countries for sure--the relatively uneconomical Burma Service, for instance, now doesn't stand a chance.

Also, many of the arts programmes heard on the WS in future will contain material recycled from other BBC stations. Although this doesn't sound like the worst idea in the world--needs must-it isn't all that easy to achieve. …