Monday, May 22, 2006

Hands off Auntie's jewels!

The European Media Forum (EMF) has said that the BBC should sell of Radios 1 and 2. I cannot think of anything more ridiculous. I am sure that the move would raise lots of money for the licence-fee payer, but EMF seem to have missed the main point about the BBC. It is a public service. As well as being the "jewels in the crown" of the BBC, for many people, Radios 1 and 2 are the front-shop of the BBC. It is how they get introduced to the great institution. Selling them off would rip the heart out of dear old Auntie Beeb. The radio stations themselves would lose their essential nature by selling them off and making them, presumably, commercial-carrying. If Radio 1 had been a commercial station since its inception, they would have got rid of John Peel in about 1969 - or perhaps never hired him. They would have never let him play Ivor Cutler, that's for sure! Similarly, I doubt whether a privatised Radio 2 would air "The Organist entertains" of "Listen to the Band".

The EMF report says that commercial radio has been "baldy bruised" by what it infers is unfair competition from the BBC, with its large funds and cross-media fertisliation. Surely, the answer to that is to set up, at long last, a couple of national commercial popular music radio stations with their own national FM wavebands? We ought to remind ourselves that, at the moment, the only national commercial radio station on FM is Classic FM - a niche player. It is feintly ludicrous that there are no mainstream FM national commercial stations - that is where the unfair competition really comes in. Even when there are "national" popular music programmes on commercial radio, like the Top Forty on Sundays, if you are driving along a motorway you have to jiggle with the tuning to listen to it continually. That is ridiculous.

By the way, for a "badly bruised" commecrial sector, they aren't doing too badly out of it. Radio One and Two have a combined audience of 25%. If you compare that with commercial local radio stations, perhaps a fair comparison because they are mainly centred around popular music, those stations have a 32.2% share of the audience (the national commercial stations have a further 10.5% share). "Badly bruised"? My foot.

Fascinatingly, the European Media Forum is part of the European Policy Forum, whose President is one Graham Mather, Conservative Member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999.

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