British Broadcasting Coalition? (Or 'when I hear the word cuts I reach for the off switch')

I suppose if I had Rupert Murdoch on my back I'd act a bit peculiar, but I had been starting to wonder if it was just me that thought the BBC was embracing the idea of cuts to other people with a little too much relish. But today I've seen two pieces that suggest I'm not alone in thinking their presentation of the cuts debate has not been very, well, rounded.

Aditya Chakrabortty,
in The Guardian, makes the point that coverage which promotes the inevitability of cuts in certain areas, and has 'in these difficult economic times' on autotext, creates an atmosphere of naturalness which is refuted by many leading economists, let alone those who'll bear the brunt of the cuts. (Poor people, women, children from deprived backgrounds, economically-useless folk like that according to even the flimsy impact assessments done so far.) Like him, I don't buy the conspiracy theories. It is more the sign of a broadcaster weakened by a series of events, going back to the Hutton Enquiry, and lacking clarity and confidence.That, and some tired, dull journalism that likes repeating itself, but that's not confined to the BBC.

Meanwhile, on Article 19, (whose Neil Nesbit is fresh from his appearance supporting some arts funding on a BBC programme in which some saloon bar 'iconoclast' argued for the withdrawal of public money from the arts) has been looking into the BBC headline that 'two-thirds of people agree with the government's stance on cutting funding to the arts'. His article
here coolly takes apart the survey, which was commissioned to promote the Threadneedle Prize, far better than I could, so I won't repeat it here. But the point remains why the BBC should take an approach that would shame a tiny local paper? As anyone following the #artsfunding hashtag on twitter will testify, that headline rippled through followers.

Now, we should not dismiss it out of hand. It's true, I'm sure, that many people prefer their visual art figurative rather than conceptual. And the issue of public support - especially when services nearer the base of
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, like hospitals and schools, are being cut too - is a crucial one which the sector's campaigns have so far not addressed sufficiently. But a sense of perspective is needed on all sides for the debate about cuts to be meaningful.

Unfortunately, we do have to admit the possibility that it is not meaningful - cannot be in the circumstances, a generous person might say - and we should turn our attention to re-imagining and redesigning and focus more of our messages on this. More on that anon. In the meantime, it is important we use all available media channels to tell the stories of the value of the arts, and hold all of them to account.


  1. Perceptive as always you hint that the pro-arts campaigns are not really getting deep enough to penetrate the prejudice of average people. While the BBC discussions I heard were disgracefully polarised, in the first one the arts person played the economic line very well, but fell into the bear trap in the process. If once you agree that the arts - or culture - are goods for sale, part of the market economy in which all that matters is what people are prepared to spend their discretionary income on, you've already lost it.

    The assertion has to be that there are certain fundamentals about the value of human life and the way peoples express that, through their cultures, which are what economic activity is there to support.

    Finding appropriate language to make that confident assertion is essential. We need the best writers, poets and other artists - and those who are paid to support their work - to speak up clearly.

    Paul Harman

  2. the prejudice of average people

    That doesn't sound like a great starting point for engagement Paul.

    There are prejudiced people certainly and there are people who have other priorities many of which could also claim economic trickledown or wellbeing benefits.

    What I think I'm seeing too much is arts advocates who see their own position as self-evident and can understand disagreement only in terms of made-up conditions where the people are the problem.


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