Friday, 12 April 2013

BBC caves in with a decision that will please nobody

I do love a story so blown out of proportion that it leaves everyone looking a bit daft. Who would have thought less than a week after the death of Baroness Thatcher, that discussions of her legacy and funeral arrangements would have equal billing with a story about whether a song bought by her haters should be played on the radio?

Only a few weeks ago The Mail and Daily Telegraph were (rightly) railing against state-backed press regulation. Today’s headlines revealed their attempts to interfere with BBC impartiality. The “Ding Dong” song shooting its way up the charts should be pulled on grounds of taste and decency, so the spurious argument went. New Beeb DG, Lord Hall, merely days into his post, probably doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of all this. Not that he’s come out and said such a thing. This is being taken extremely seriously so the official line goes. So seriously in fact that one of his first public acts as DG was taken this afternoon with him deciding that just a few seconds of the song should be aired on Sunday’s chart show. Welcome to the hyper-sensitive BBC.
Today’s Telegraph leads with quotes from former grandees of the Thatcher era and current Tory MPs. The BBC would be guilty of a “serious dereliction of duty” if the song was aired, friends of Thatcher warned. Sir Gerald Howarth MP, one of her former ministers, with a straight face stated that:

“This is a serious test for Tony Hall. This is the State broadcaster and it has a duty to show good taste and decency, it is still a tradition in our country that we respect the dead.
“People are entitled to consider and debate her record in office, but for the state broadcaster to play this song in these circumstances would be a dereliction of duty and potentially a violation of its charter.

“Playing it would be a very serious dereliction of duty by Tony Hall. This is not just about her family or her friends. The people of this country will be absolutely disgusted if this is what they do.”
Lord McAlpine, on the receiving end of the BBC at its negligent worst, weighed in with this contribution:

“The BBC has got to be balanced in its coverage, it is a matter of taste. In the past, the corporation has always been careful about matters of taste on important occasions.
"They are letting the charts be hijacked for political purposes. I’m absolutely astounded that they are even considering playing it. It’s another example of how out of control the BBC is.”

And John Whittingdale, chair of the Commons Culture Select Committee, told The Daily Mail
"This is an attempt to manipulate the charts by people trying to make a political point. Most people will find that offensive and deeply insensitive, and for that reason it would be better if the BBC did not play it. It's a political act.”

There’s something quite wonderful in accusing a group of people of hijacking the charts for political means, when their own aims were to see the song pulled...for political means. Tragically, I doubt they’ve been able to see their hopeless hypocrisy.
I was hoping to see the BBC have the guts to go ahead and play the wretched song in its entirety, but they’ve caved in to the bullies. These days the BBC is scared of its own shadow and jumps even at the mildest of criticism. There have of course been cases when its judgment has been found badly wanting, sometimes with awful consequences.

Earlier this afternoon, my money was on a messy cop-out, with a compromise that will satisfy nobody. In opting to play five seconds of the song this Sunday - and a brief commentary explaining to its teenage audience who Thatcher actually was! The censoring, then the educating - the BBC has done just that. Pity the BBC. They do their best, even when made to look ridiculous.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Friday 12th April 2013 

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