BBC Bashing And Constructive Criticism

April 11, 2009

N.B. My personal views.

It’s been a perplexing few weeks with many peculiar attacks on the BBC.

Richard Sambrook has provided a rebuttal of Nic Cohen’s piece in the Observer.

Then there was Catherine Bennett’s intemperate attack on the BBC’s children’s output. I’m baffled by this one. To leap from GoForIt closing to a condemnation of CBBC seems absurd. CBBC is one of the best things the BBC does and as a parent I’m glad for it (and my kids do watch “Who wants to be a suprehero”). This seems to be more about some strange middle class hang-up that I don’t understand than anything to do with the BBC.

Michael LeJune’s attack on the BBC for being “too big” is a familar theme and not well informed about what the BBC actually does or what the Licence Fee actually means. The best response to it is in this comment.

I love it whenpeople say

“i *hate* the beeb, but i love R4/ Newsnight/ etc”

i don’t read the grauniad travel section on Saturday – should i complain and ask for 20p back off my newsagent?

same with the BBC – some things i like, some i dislike – but i pay for the whole.


because i know that by allowing people to only pay for what they want, we’d end up with a channel full of lowest common denominator sh*te like sky.

i completely disagree with this guy’s assertions –

if the BBC is funded by a licence fee, that means they have an obligation to provide to the *many* – to make content for all.

this means that if someone pays the fee and they only like cr*ppy soaps and stuff with wendy craig in and antiques roadshow and last of the f’n summer wine, the BBC should supply it.

this content, in turn, should be there to challenge it’s competitors to produce higher quality content.

if the BBC makes Dr Who which does well on Saturday Evenings, that should be a good thing.

if they make eastenders, and it is popular, that is a good thing.

it is then up to the commercial channels to compete and raise their game – not send their drones onto the Graun’s website pretending to have the BBC’s best interests at heart.

finally – i like the idea that my (3 yr old) son can watch a channel that doesn’t have ads for toys and sweets and other rubbish between the programmes.

During a recession people are going to ask tough questions about the BBC. I feel priviledged to work there, as I should do, because I am.

But the best way to change the BBC is by rational, well informed argument. For example by a well considered and researched report which offers some evidence for its’ conclusions. Such as the Select Committee’s report on BBC Worldwide. I was particularly interested in this as some of the points raised by it were discussed on this blog in May of last year. It’s worth reading, and thinking about.


5 Responses to “BBC Bashing And Constructive Criticism”

  1. Dave Says:

    “But the best way to change the BBC is by rational, well informed argument. For example by a well considered and researched report which offers some evidence for its conclusions.”

    Sorry, Nick, but this is simply not true. For example, when the iconic children’s programme Grange Hill was axed last year, CBBC claimed that feedback showed the decision was supported by their audience. I carried out a statistical analysis of the available data, and found the claim to be in error. The falsehood, together with my evidence, was raised at all levels within the Corporation hierarchy, but the BBC failed to correct it in accordance with the Will Wyatt recommendations, and I would add in accordance with a reasonable standard of integrity. Incidentally this is one of several instances where the BBC has refused to take note of reasoned arguments. More recently there has been the removal of kids’ message boards, and expert online help about growing up problems. The BBC has refused to budge despite loads of complaints by the kids themselves.

  2. Russ Taylor Says:

    I did my PhD on evidence based policy making. Boring!!! (he he)…

    The problem with using the word ‘evidence’ is that it implies the same standard of rigour found in medical labs or court rooms. But in the world of policy research and analysis, the practises are usually quite sloppy.

    What I have found is that — in the social science setting — the evidence either (i) often points in several policy directions or (ii) is manipulated by those with the power to do so.

    So, while I don’t know about the Grange Hill matter in particular, I’m generally inclined to agree with the comment above.

    I have seen ‘evidence’ about public attitudes related to public service broadcasting that would not pass proper peer review. That’s not to say it’s invalid, but it should not be sold to the public with the tagline ‘this is what the evidence says’.

  3. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Interesting Russ.

    Do you have any specific examples?

    Some evidence is better than none at all.

    In OFCOM’s PSB work some of the evidence was shall we say “open to interpretation”. Unfortunately some of the more interesting research was ignored or quickly forgotten about.

  4. Russ Says:

    Hey Nick,

    I think the ‘willingness to pay’ deliberative research Ofcom released in April 2008 (as part of the PSB review) was not very good. I’d be curious to know what you thought of it.

    And ‘some evidence is better than none at all’ is a statement I would probably disagree with — at least most of the time. When policy makers pick the low hanging fruit (from a research perspective) they tend to come up with easy solutions to what are otherwise complex problems.


  5. Nick Reynolds (BBC) Says:

    I’d agree with you about that one Russ.

    Interesting that the idea of the public spending more on public service seems to have dropped off the agenda for the moment.

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