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Another bit of the empire crumbles…

By Angela Harbutt
January 26th, 2011 at 6:23 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of BBC World Service.

On the one hand it sounds like a marvelous idea – spreading the message of freedom to those that don’t currently enjoy it; dispensing “truth” where news is otherwise suppressed or distorted; bringing the many joys of sport and culture to those currently deprived…

On the other hand – if the aim is to provide unbiased news, information and culture from the free world – why does America have its own world service (aka Voice of America)? Surely if this was just about getting accurate information into repressed nations, of getting banned literature, art and sport into countries where it would otherwise not be seen or heard, why isn’t there a more co-ordinated, joint effort from the free nations – say USA/UK/others ? Why the duplication? 

Presumably because a good deal of this is about BBC and Government egos? The former revelling in its revered status as broadcaster to the world (because only IT can do news properly) and British government seeking influence wherever it can find it – some throw back to its colonial past….. Jeremy Dear (NUJ) has today said as much “By cutting the service, the Government will cut British influence in the rest of the world, and cuts will also be deeply damaging for objective quality news services around the globe.” . Given how much trouble the desire for “British influence” has got us into in the last few years is it such a bad thing to curtail it somewhat? I doubt it.

One also has to look at the services to be cut … language services in Albanian, Macedonian, and Serbian, Portuguese outputs for Africa, and an English-language service for the Caribbean are those on the hit list. 

I am scratching my head somewhat. Albania, Macedonia and Serbia are all recognised as potential candidates for joining the EU. All these countries have good access to multiple media sources. Serbia has a several commercial TV stations (one was even set up by News Corp until they sold it a couple of years ago) , radio stations and wide internet access (over 50% ) with some 2 million on facebook. Albania and Macedonia both have media corruption issues ( neither as bad as Italy where the PM controls 90% it should be said). But, whilst Macedonia has three state channels it has a dominant commercial TV sector ratings-wise (and at least 50% of the population have internet access with no controls on access). Over in Albania, the national media is a bit of a mess (with business media and politics still too close for comfort), but then again many watch Italian and Greek TV via terrestrial reception or listen to Deutsche Welle, Radio France Internationale or Voice of America. There are also over 150 newspaper titles, including over 20 dailies. On top of that about 25% if not more regularly go on line.

It is still true that journalists face threats in all these countries but in all three the populations are not without options for their news whatever the NUJ in London chooses to think.

Moving the World Service out of the clutches of government (yes I know there was no “direct control” ) and into the public scrutiny of the taxlicence fee payer was an inspired move. Whether the BBC makes the right decisions on where it needs to cut is of course another matter. They look sound/overdue cuts but we all remember the BBCs’ utterly bizarre view that the radio service most deserving of cutting was 6Music.

So I am not going to shed a tear here. The World Service was created in 1932 to broadcast to English speakers in the outposts of the British Empire. Thanks to a world war and a bizarre funding system (which demanded that the people who paid for it (ie the foreign office) were kept at arms length from the operation it funded) , the World Service it has been allowed to grow unchecked into a huge monolith employing some 2,500 people, broadcasting in 32 languages, across all continents. But who has ever really scrutinised what it does, other than the BBC itself?  

I am not saying it’s all bad. Of course I am not. I am simply saying from where I am sitting it’s hard to see the good. And whilst the BBC World Service may remind some of some glorious past, when the map was pink and Britannia ruled the waves, this honestly looks like a dinosaur to me. Another part of the BBC empire crumbling? The heat under Mark Thompson has just gone up to gas mark 6.

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So who is in charge of the BBC these days?

By Angela Harbutt
January 25th, 2011 at 8:25 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Just how many people does the BBC employ in its online business? A lot, it would seem.

Director-general Mark Thompson has announced that BBC online will cut 360 jobs, as its’ budget is cut by 25%.

What is baffling is Mr Thompson’s admission that BBC online had been allowed to grow “like Topsy”. So who, one wonders, was in charge? Not Mr Thompson by the sound of it.

Naturally the immediate reaction from the NUJ is one of rage at the BBC over the announced job cuts and the almost de rigeur talk of strikes. Sigh. I always rather welcome strikes at the BBC myself. No one really gets harmed (except those striking of course) and the prospect of the people of this nation waking up to the fact that life without the BBC is possible and that the licence fee is an odious tax, well past its sell by date. So NUJ – bring it on.

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Has the coalition ruined my Thursday nights?

By Angela Harbutt
May 28th, 2010 at 12:00 am | 1 Comment | Posted in UK Politics

Did tonight show us the future of UK television political coverage? I sincerely hope not.

First I watched Question Time. No Government minister on the programme..because, the BBC say, Downing Street said it would put up a minister but only if the Labour spokesperson was a serving Labour MP not Alistair Campbell… The BBC told the Government to sod off and it was up to them who they invited onto the show. First signs of BBC/government tensions? It was frankly silly of the Government to big up Campbell like that…but even sillier of the BBC to choose Alistair Campbell in the first place.

The guests were in fact all FORMER SOMETHINGs…. Alistair Campbell (former Labour spin doctor) looking very smug, Piers Morgan (former newspaper editor – and a big Labour supporter), Max Hastings (another former newspaper editor), Susan Kramer (former Lib Dem MP), and John Redwood (former cabinet minister)….Even if some of them have columns,books, or entertainment TV shows on the go these days.

Being brutally honest who cares what a load of former somethings think… It was dull,dull,dull especially when Campbell droned on like a broken record about why Blair took us into Iraq (yawn). The highlight, frankly, was when Susan Kramer described Ming Campbell as the John Redwood of the Lib Dems..(I doubt she meant it to come out quite the way it did).

It is early days of course – so let’s hope they sort out their spat with NO10 and find some panellists who are somewhat more relevant to the issues at hand or at least have something  to say.

I am now watching Andrew Neal’s THIS WEEK as I write. This too has gone a tad off- piste and is NOT working. Although I have always thought Diane Abbott a tad mad, there is undoubtedly a chemistry between the sharp-as-knife Michael Portillo and his giggling sidekick.

Diane Abbott has been replaced by Hazel Blears because, as Abbott is running in the Labour leadership election, the BBC was concerned her continued appearance as a pundit would breach its editorial independence guidelines. (Though rumour has it that Ms Abbott will feature on next week’s Question Time??).

Hazel Blears is deemed a suitable replacement. She is, let’s remember, one of the worst  home flippers there is..which begs the question that of all the MPs to choose to replace Abbott …why her? What can she possibly bring to the piece other than as an expert on tax avoidance?

Hazel Blears and David Davis (their replacements) are pale immitations of the real thing and just too painful to watch –  Ms Blears squeaking and wriggling her way through the show whilst David Davis (Portillo’s replacement) manouvers himself  tight into the corner, as far away from her as he possibly can on such a small piece of furniture. David Davis is not doing a bad job actually- but even he can’t carry the feeble efforts of the mighty midget. I have had to switch off.

I now live in hope that Ms Abbott can return to This Week’s love seat once she fails to get 33 Labour MPs to nominate her for the Leadership election – I never thought I would be writing that particular line ! (Dont even mention Ms Abbott and London Mayoral elections)

When the coaltion was finally agreed , I did wonder whether this would see the end of three-way politics on TV, with the Lib Dems squeezed out of the debate entirely …I never thought it would result in yawn TV. Perhaps the BBC have just been caught on the hop.. and it will get better (it surely can’t get worse) or may be the most radical and exciting government in decades really does make for crap TV. Has the coalition really ruined my Thursday nights? I hope not.

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The final leaders debate…where does leave it us?

By Angela Harbutt
April 30th, 2010 at 1:36 am | 5 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

After all the controversy that has emerged about these “leaders debates polls” and whether – after the Sky debate – at least one polling company ran its polling BEFORE Nick made his closing remarks …I sit wondering what the “who won the debate” polls actually tell us.

One has sympathy for the polling companies – it’s a new format – the polls are under pressure to deliver and deliver fast – so I can see that they may struggle to do it perfectly in order to do it quickly. Then again maybe they have all done it perfectly ..(in which case at least one of them needs a better PR company)..Ah well it will all come out in the wash I am sure…

And of course each party has spun itself silly trying to persuade the nation why their guy “won”.  And the newspapers will slavishly follow their political masters….  The Sun will gun for Clegg, The Telegraph will call it for Cameron etc etc.

For the first time tonight I watched the debate with an audience – with about 50 or 60 Liberals to be precise. It is infinitely more difficult to draw sound conclusions when surrounded by partisan Liberals cheering on Nick’s every word (though it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience).

So I am not attempting to “call it” tonight.

I have two observations however…

1. I think this debate will have half the impact of last week’s debate – which in turn had half the impact of the first one. Most will already have made up their mind prior to this evenings debate and barring a total cock up tonight (which there wasn’t- that was demonstrably yesterday’s story) I doubt there was anything there to change people’s minds.

2. Politicians and papers still seem not to have woken up to the fact that the people of this country are sick to death of  the old-school confrontational, attack-style politics. I noticed tonight that when Cameron attempted to have a go at Nick about the Liberals immigration policy, Camerons line (the “worm”) went into the negative. When Nick talked about getting all three parties chancellors together to agree the size of the debt and a plan to sort out this economic mess – Clegg’s line shot up.

People want consensus..they want the politicians heads knocking together to sort this mess out …. they are tired of cheap political point scoring… and bored with negative attacks from the Parties pet newspapers on their rivals. 

So whilst I find it hard to call who won the debate tonight – as Iwatched amongst eager, upbeat Liberals – I think it is clear, however much David Cameron (and tonight Gordon Brown) might object, that people WANT a hung parliament…they WANT consensus politics….they WANT a different way of doing politics in this country. I think they will get it. And I think that was determined within 24 hours of the first TV debate.    

(Oh and lest there be any doubt about this,  my view on the Liberals policy on limiting bankers bonus’ is that it is populist nonsense).

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He’s not the Messiah, he’s the Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary

By Julian Harris
March 9th, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Comments Off on He’s not the Messiah, he’s the Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary | Posted in UK Politics


(Update – for those emailers who did not get it – look at the name on screen…CHRIST Huhne…really?)

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