Peter Whittle: Less Woman's Hour, more Moral Maze - the Radio 4 that I would create
One theme of ConservativeHome's Agenda2008 is support for the draft proposal from Jeremy Hunt MP that a small portion of the BBC licence fee be allocated to the establishment of a new broadcaster. In this Platform article, Peter Whittle of the New Culture Forum suggests what that new broadcaster might look like.
Robin Aitken should be congratulated that the proposal he made in his book Can We Trust the BBC? has been taken on board by Jeremy Hunt. Hiving off a meagre 2% of BBC revenues would give a new radio channel around £60 million a year. A genuinely exciting prospect; but what would - and should - it sound like?
Well, as much like Radio 4 as possible would be my hope - or should I say, with the same structure and variety of content, but minus the smug, predictable and increasingly alienating mindset. Radio 4 symbolises the dilemma many of us have when regarding the future of the BBC. We are genuinely torn, not wanting to throw babies out with bathwater, not wanting to loose Start the Week or Book at Bedtime while at the same time being utterly exasperated by that other political universe which comes at us every week in Any Questions, Woman's Hour, panel shows populated by uniformly left-wing comedians and dire so-called satirical comedy which preaches solidly to the choir,
Like many others, I've found that however much I might like the station in principle, I'm actually tuning in less and less. Life is stressful enough, especially when you're listening while sitting in a traffic jam on the south circular. I don't want to turn into Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
A new public broadcaster could offer fantastic opportunities. There need be no revolutionary fervour; just a fresh approach to successful formats would make a world of difference. It would also increase public trust in the media at a time when increasing numbers of people are starting to feel that broadcasters are in some sort of conspiracy against them.
Here are a few ideas:
(1) A weekly Question Time programme in front of a random public audience. The BBC's supposed commitment to selecting a balanced audience might be sincere, but for some reason it's not working; nowhere is the strength of public opinion on a range of issues, such as immigration and anti-social behaviour, adequately reflected. I listen to Any Questions and watch Question Time and wonder quite how opinion polls arrive at their results. Take a risk: an unmonitored audience would certainly be livelier.
(2) A weekly satirical Spitting Image- type show. Satire is not, as is often claimed, dead; it's just that all the usual targets - parliament, church, monarchy - have been mocked to oblivion. Wouldn't political correctness alone give them enough material for a whole series?
(3) More programmes like The Moral Maze. In fact, make them daily as opposed to weekly.
(4) Rigorous identification of every contributor's credentials. This does not happen on the BBC. Wouldn't it be refreshing, balanced and honest to hear the words 'Now here with us to comment on that issue is the left-wing columnist Polly Toynbee.'
However, there is one crucial factor to consider in making sure that this new broacaster offers a real choice, and that is how the people who run it are recruited. The BBC has not been called the Guardian of the Airwaves for nothing. Hiring should take place from as wide a basis as possible. Here would be the chance to make inroads into the stiffling monoculture of the London metropolitan elite. The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. It might even help if the station where physically based anywhere but the capital.
It shows how the discussion has moved on in recent years that we're even in a position to be considering all these things. Let's hope that Jeremy Hunt ends up in a position where he can put our money where his mouth is.