Magazine article The Spectator

Quantity, Not Quality

Magazine article The Spectator

Quantity, Not Quality

Article excerpt

I sometimes think the BBC is like a powerful and incorrigible virus, forever spreading, pausing occasionally to deal with a briefly troublesome antibiotic before triumphantly gathering immunity to seek another host. There appears to be no effective antibiotic known to man when it comes to the BBC's continuing expansion.

Shortly after the BBC announced that it was aiming to have eight television channels with six of them available to digital viewers, it was radio's turn. In addition to the existing five radio networks the Corporation is planning five new national digital radio services, if approved by the government, and all to be paid for out of the existing newly increased licence fee. There's to be a new service for black people, particularly the young (what's wrong with older black people?), another for those who like popular music from 1970 onwards (forget 1969), a third with drama, comedy, features and children's programmes for Radio Four-type listeners, a fourth called Five Live Plus broadcasting more live sport, and an Asian network with music and speech. The World Service will also be available on all national digital outlets, radio, Internet, satellite and cable.

I welcome the latter but wonder how the BBC will pay for it all without spreading itself too thinly as it has done in the past, to the detriment of quality on both radio and television. Jenny Abramsky, the director of radio, attempted to answer this when she appeared on last Friday's listeners' complaints programme Feedback on Radio Four. She was asked by the presenter Roger Bolton why now, when so few people have digital radios? `Because it's there. It's happening now and I think the BBC has to be, and is, a part of it.' The Corporation had to embrace and exploit it.

That's probably what the Chinese flu virus says to the Brazilian variety: `Where are you off to next?' `Thought I'd try France.' `Why France?' `Because it's there. We have to embrace and exploit it, you know.' Astonishingly, the BBC believes these five new radio networks will cost only 13 million a year, with the most expensive being the black service at L6 million. None of the money, Abramsky says, will come from existing budgets; it will be covered by the licence fee, the last increase in which was solely to pay for these new radio and television digital networks. …

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