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Tuesday, April 29, 2003
In defence of programmes

Of all the many countries I have been to, Airstrip One indubitably has the best TV programmes. This advantage is a legacy from the Reithian paternalism that governed the early days of the BBC.

Our national treasures are already under threat from those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. (Is it a coincidence that Iraqi museums and hospitals were looted while oilfields and the related ministry were protected/spared?) No wonder the French object to Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism; it isn't simply a matter of keeping out the vulgar English - it's more a case of trying to keep the vulgar anglophone culture at bay.

There is enough crap on TV already, but the bill, governing cross-media ownership, currently being discussed in The Lords, will further open the doors to lowest common denominator 'programmes'. You can read more about the proposals and related concerns here. It's not all shit but a few clauses are causing apoplexy among the cognoscenti.

Tessa Jowell claims that the Bill would be accompanied by tough licensing measures to maintain standards. You silly woman, once the bastards get control of the channels, it will be difficult/expensive or impossible to invoke standards clauses.

My clauses for the Bill would make it mandatory for anyone making a bid for any of our TV resources to have a history of cultural acceptability. This would, for example, include a demonstrable track record of promoting 'Programmes' (or 'Programs'), not 'Shows'.

Airstrip One's history of broadcasting is primarily one of informing and entertaining; it isn't about selling things. So anything that keeps the cultural vandals at bay would be welcome. In this respect, it's better to be poor and chaste. All suitors I can think of make me cringe.

Harold Macmillan once famously described the beginnings of privatisation as like selling off the family silver. Well, selling off our broadcasting assets to any of the likely candidates would be like selling the whole family into slavery.

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