Forget Cuddly Image - This Viewers' Lobby Group Is a Force to Reckon with; in the Spotlight: VLV Chief Richard Lindley (Right), Predecessor Jocelyn Hay (Top Right) and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham (Far Right)

Article excerpt


LIKE many a professional journalist, I am predisposed to scepticism about lobby groups.

They often provide good copy, of course, with rent-a-quote spokespeople inevitably available at the end of a phone. They are usually organised and led by someone who, while feigning indifference, finds it rather fun to hog the publicity spotlight.

Members of these single-issue campaigning groups become characterised as do-gooders or self-appointed busybodies, and they tend to lose their influence as both journalists and their consumers switch off at the repetitive sound of grinding axes. So it is a pleasure to write about a genuinely successful and influential group that has never fallen into the trap of trivialising its aims and objectives through media overkill Voice of The Listener & Viewer (VLV).

This body, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, should not be confused as it has been, sadly, so often with the National Viewers & Listeners' Association (aka the Mary Whitehouse crowd). VLV is certainly concerned about broadcasting content, but it is a very different organisation altogether.

Founded due to the enthusiasm of a remarkable woman, Jocelyn Hay, it has emerged as the most important champion of television and radio consumers by consistently pressing for the retention and extension of high-quality public service broadcasting.

Under Hay's peerless guidance, VLV has not fallen into the trap of shouting from the sidelines or using the press as a megaphone in order to fight its corner.

Instead, it has argued its case at private meetings, by staging seminars and arranging public conferences. Her attention to detail, her skill at dissecting reports and her ability to get to grips with complex policy documents has been impressive. She and the VLV have therefore won the respect of successive BBC director-generals, BBC governors and trustees, ITV and Channel 4 executives, Ofcom's most senior staff and, most significantly, several government ministers. The latest Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, was so impressed with the VLV when he addressed its members two months ago that he has asked to repeat the exercise.

Given that VLV is very concerned indeed about whether the Government is committed enough to ensuring that the licence fee is ring-fenced for the BBC, this speaks volumes for the serious way the group goes about its business.

"What drives us," says Hay, "is the need to maintain a powerful BBC and a powerful public service broadcasting ethos." Her unfailingly polite, articulate approach epitomises the VLV's campaigning style. But she has proved to be a terrier too ever since the days of 1983 when, with a couple of friends, she fought off proposals to turn Radio 4 into a news and current affairs channel. …


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