Friday, 17 July 2015

If we destroy the BBC we'll kill the UK's role as a world centre of creative excellence

I am increasingly alarmed by the mounting attacks on the BBC in the press and from members of the government. Whilst it is clear that the attacks from the Murdoch owned press are purely motivated by commercial considerations (mainly that the BBC do a better job than Sky and have a far higher degree of global trust), the attacks from the Conservative political establishment are perhaps harder to understand. Whilst a naive view may say that the Conservatives are basically "anti public sector" as a default setting, this ignores the fact that people such as David Cameron and George Osborne are not stupid and cannot possibly not be properly briefed on the benefits which the BBC provide to the economy.

As many readers will be aware I run a studio complex in Mill Hill. I am running a campaign called Save London Music to try and preserve studios and music venues in London, as these are vital to preserve the leading role London plays as a creative centre in world music. We have a constant stream of well known artists passing through the studio. Just to name a couple, Martin Fry of ABC and Lee Thompson of Madness were in during the week, working on various projects. Our studios have also been used by many productions. Last year we even had Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age filming in Studio 1 for an episode of Toast of London. I started my career in the arts as a four year old child actor, appearing in a Tizer commercial, so have a long association with the creative industries.

I've  heard many people defending the BBC, but few make have made the most compelling arguement. This is that the BBC has made the UK develop into a world beating centre of creative excellence. Despite the fact that the UK economy and population is dwarfed by the USA, we punch way above our weight. Creative industries add £8 million an hour to the UK economy. The BBC is at the heart of this. I've heard siren voices saying "The BBC should not be playig pop music or showing programs like the Voice". Hello? Wake up and smell the coffee. How do these voices think new artists get their breakthroughs. On BBC London radio we have shows such as Gary Crowleys "BBC Introducing" which gives new artists an opportunity to be heard. We also are lucky to have Robert Elms, who regularly gets unknown artists in to play live. The Jools Holland show on BBC TV has helped launch many great artists. Perhaps the closest to my heart is Amy Winehouse, a good North London Girl and studio customer, who had her first break on Jools Holland. Many of these artists, go on to become international stars, which adds immeasurably to the UK economy and builds our national prestige. The Voice also gives unknown artists a chance to shine and build a career. As a country where music makes a huge contribution to our GDP, how can this be a bad thing.

Hosting popular shows such as Eastenders keeps the channels in the public eye. If all they made was worthy documetaries about pengiuns, the channels would soon be relegated to the outer reaches of satellite TV. The channels need prestigious shows. The likes of Sky and ITV claim the competition is unfair as the BBC are funded by a taxpayer. They should think again. Many of the most highly skilled technicians, who make their programs, start at the BBC. There is a huge well of talent in the UK, supported by the licence fee. Without this, the likes of Sky would most certainly struggle to maintain the high production standards. There is absolutely no evidence that the BBC is broken. The only argument against it is that it makes life a bit harder for foreign media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch to make huge profits. Does anyone seriously believe that Rupert Murdoch is interested in the wellbeing of the UK creative industries when he gets his papers and TV channels to attack the corporation?

The Murdoch press use the petty minded beancounter argument to attack the BBC. They suggest that because people have to spend a few pennies a day to fund the corporation, it is in some way unfair. They never mention the fact that the BBC generates perhaps 20-30 times the amount of economic benefit to the country. They never mention the fact that the BBC can promote new talent in a way a commercial venture simply couldn't afford to. They never mention the thousands of highly trained technicians who owe their careers to the BBC and then move on to private companies to ensure the UK has a huge pool of talent.

There are many reasons I write blogs. In this case it is to make sure as many people as possible understand that these attacks are not just about us being forced to pay for a few programs we don't watch. What we must understand is that these attacks are a concerted campaign by people who are not in the slightest bit interested in keeping the UK at the heart of the worlds creative industry. They are motivated by a short sighted desire to "kill the competition". Don't get me wrong, I think Sky and ITV are provide great TV. Both are excellent at what they do, but I believe that without the BBC, the UK creative industrys would wither. New artists would have no outlets to be heard on. The pool of excellent technicians would dry up and eventually we'd end up as just another third rate nation, languishing with bland radio playing old tunes and imported US TV shows. Ultimately our taxes would rise as we'd lose the £8 million an hour we get from creative industries, our studios would shut and we'd be a much poorer nation in every sense of the word. Is that what you really want?

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