Monday, 19 September 2016

The Great British Television Swindle

It was a strange week for news last week wasn't it. Hillary's pneumonia, Dave's resignation, Chauncey's finally winning a showdown against the Tories in parliament, a decision on Hinkley C that was not notably different from the one that Theresa said she was delaying to reconsider, yet another ceasefire in Syria that is being routinely ignored and Russian hacking of the private medical details of athletes as part of their serial chippiness about the perfidies of the west and our determination to do down the not at all dishonest, mendacious and outright lawless Russian state out to recreate the glories of the Soviet Union.

Biggest story of the week for many though seemed to be that the BBC was losing Bake Off to Channel 4.

Now let's from the start be clear: I don't watch Bake Off and never have. I would rather watch the Paralympics and that is nauseating enough.

But here's the point you see. Why do people care that a twee programme full of double entendres and comic timing from the 1970s - oh and cake and bread - is moving from the BBC to Channel 4? Channel 4 is just the BBC with adverts. And surely commercial breaks to facilitate the making of tea is a boon during a programme full of tasty treats just crying out for a good dunking.

Channel 4 has mounted a seemingly successful campaign over the last year or so to prevent itself from being privatised. This is despite the fact that many would have assumed that it was already privatised. But no, dear reader, Channel 4 belongs to you and me.

And this is where the similarities with the BBC become ever more stark and revealing. Because while Channel 4 and the BBC nominally belong to you and me they do not in any meaningful way belong to you and me. They belong to the smug people who run these organisations. They do not even belong to the people who work for them since most of them will be freelance. Sure, some of them will be paid shedloads of money for doing so, but these things can disappear in the blink of an eye. Just ask Jeremy Clarkson or Jonathan Ross. For the people who run both organisations though, the serried ranks of the moneyed and not extravagantly talented middle managers made good, once they reach the top of the greasy pole, then jobs can be had at high remuneration in perpetuity. And Channel 4 pays even better than the BBC, despite being owned by little old you and me.

How does Channel 4 pay better even that the BBC for its ex BBC execs? For the same reason that Channel 4 can apparently afford to pay out £25 million for a show about cakes. Because Channel 4 is a commercial enterprise that is not a commercial enterprise. It is currently embarking on a battle to keep from having to move its headquarters in Westminster to a new location in Birmingham or Manchester. Why anyone at Channel 4 should object to this move is a mystery. Channel 4 does not make its own shows. It commissions them. It is not immediately obvious why it needs to do so from a fantastically expensive headquarters in the capital as opposed to much cheaper premises in our second or third cities.

But the real question of last week should have been: if Channel 4 can afford to spend that kind of money on a show about cakes, then why could it not just be a privately owned and run commercial television company like ITV, Sky, Channel 5 etc? Channel 4 claims to need its protected status because it is distinctive and different. Yet Channel 4 makes very little drama of consequence and yet can apparently afford to outbid the BBC for a show about baking and indeed for Formula One racing. The rest of the time it seems to spend its time making exploitative trash TV like this summer's Naked Attraction in which people stood naked in front of potential suitors and were judged entirely according to their bodies.

Channel 4 would of course claim to have a substantial public service element. But what is that? Programmes about Benefit Street? Programmes about travellers? Channel 4 News, the Guardian of the airwaves which seems to spend its time being preachy, hectoring politicians and poaching staff from Newsnight.

And then there is the Paralympics. Now I am all for people with disabilities being able to take part in sports. But to turn it into a big cavalcade is a sick joke quite frankly and that is before we get on to the arcane and fundamentally absurd rules about what is a disability and what is just an excuse to become a disabled sportsman. How does someone having fingers missing qualify them as a Paralympic cyclist?

Despite the best efforts of the BBC and Channel 4, the British public is not terribly interested in the Paralympics because we can see that all sport is not equal however much they may try to convince us that it is. There is nothing wrong with the Paralympics per se except the attitude of those who try to turn it into an Olympics equivalent. Because it isn't and most people can see that it isn't. How can it be? It's a sporting tournament for people who are not terribly good at sports.

I myself have a disability. I have a number of them actually, only one of which is a frustrating lack of talent at all sports. But the Paralympics is a parody of sports. It is laudable to encourage people from all walks of life to take part in sports. But this whole everyone should have prizes modern approach is ridiculous and damaging. We cannot all have prizes. Some of us are born with unique talents. Most of us have a talent of sorts. Occasionally when combined with the right level of determination and luck this can be turned into a winning streak. Telling people with disabilities that they have as much right to be elite athletes as anyone else is dishonest and rather cruel.

This is not to say that Channel 4 has not done a good job of covering the Paralympics because it has. But it has done so because it is subsidised by you and I so that a bunch of metropolitan luvvies can indulge their view of the world and impose it on the rest of us.

And that is why the Guardianistas of Channel 4 want to keep it the way it is. It is one of their bully pulpits from which to preach to the rest of us about how the world should be and what our attitudes should be on a range of subjects. It is why Channel 4 News now seems to be on a quest to have a representative of every minority group in the country including confused old gentlemen with a penchant for loud ties and socks who used to be good reporters.

So I ask the question again: if Channel 4 can afford to spend £25 million on GBBO then why is it any different from other commercial TV channels? And why does it deserve its protected status?

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