Thursday, January 22, 2009

Public Service Broadcasting

Ready to serve

Yesterday we were treated to an endless stream of self-styled "public service" broadcasters telling us why we should pay for even more of them.

Is the BBC anywhere near enough? Is it credible that the BBC's mere hundreds of TV and radio channels can really satisfy the public's boundless need for public service broadcasts? Wouldn't the public be even better served if taxpayers bolstered the £3.5bn pa telly tax with, say, the gift of future spectrum auction proceeds to C4?

In a week when the £6m pa Wossy returns to serve us, the latest "Celebrity" Big Brother is in full swing, and the real world is in melt-down, most of us will have vomited blood at such self-serving whining.

As it happens, last night brought the chance to compare melt-down coverage on the public service BBC with that on Sky.

For Sky we had Jeff Randall Live, a new daily programme that has already become required viewing for anyone seriously interested in business and finance.The programme was packed with informed grown-up discussion, and mercifully light on gimmicks. Randall does not spend his "show" trying to prove how clever he is, and after 30 minutes you've always learned something from his interviewees.

For the BBC we had The City Uncovered with Evan Davis, part 2 of a 3 hour series aiming to explain how we got into our current mess.

Now, we actually quite like Davis, and we have no doubt he could do a good informative programme about the melt-down. But this SHOW is really disappointing. Despite getting interviews with an amazing group of players (from the Nobel laureate fathers of quantitative finance, to the legendary Hank Greenberg, the man who built AIG), its style is shallow and gimmicky, everything pitched at a 20 second attention span, and a soundtrack of intrusive Newsnight-style techno beats*.

Last night Davis spent most of it - and I promise I'm not making this up - clad in tight-fitting leathers astride a big Yamaha, Gay Biker of the Year style. Why? We don't want a personality show about Evan Davis; we want a serious programme and time to understand exactly what the players have to say for themselves.

So there we have it. A lightweight - and by the look of it, expensive - showboat from the tax-funded BBC, vs quality grown-up coverage from the free-market Murdoch.

Take your pick.

And note that Randall's programme is now on Sky News Monday to Thursday at 7.30. Which means that if like us you find half-an-hour of Bishop Snow's evening sermons more than enough, you can now switch over for some serious coverage of the day's events.

(And see here for Randall's views on his time at the BBC. Yes, he's got a big ego too, but I like this bit:

"Randall may have made the leap from print to broadcasting, but it wasn't an easy transition and he admits he had some terrible days at the office, including a live 'two-way' with Huw Edwards on Marks & Spencer. 'Huw asked: "Jeff, what does it mean for shoppers?" I thought: "Well Huw, I'm fucked if I know." I goldfished.'

He clearly hadn't worked out that the BBC business coverage naturally reverts to its consumer news default position).

*Techno note - The Major's not so sure Davis' beats are techno - according to him they may be ambient garage. Like he's a Big Expert. Either way, they are feckin' pants.

PS The BBC's coverage of the Obamafest was everything we'd expected, but it was still hilarious to watch them brushing over the great man's fluffed oath taking and let-down speech. Now just suppose it had been Bush who had blundered like that. Can you imagine how the BBC would have guffawed, and gone on about how it was a terrible start and how the world was now in the hands of an idiot?

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