Putting quality last.
When I suggested that the recent report by Policy Exchange was a step by step guide on how to emasculate the BBC without mentioning the dreaded M name, I wasn't expecting that the BBC themselves would take a look at it and decide that much of it was worth stealing. In reality, the two reviews have likely ran side by side, but it's still difficult not to think there might have been some last minute changes after the PE report came out, such is the similarity in some of what they propose. While PE didn't recommend the most eye-catching cuts which the BBC's strategy review has outlined, the closure of the 6 Music and Asian Network radio stations, much of the rest is almost a carbon copy. The strategy review intends to cap spending on sport rights, slash it on foreign imports, close Switch and Blast! and cut back extremely heavily on web content, all recommended by Mark Oliver.
All of this is quite clearly, as alluded to above, a pre-emptive attempt at out manoeuvring the BBC's enemies before they have a chance of actually suggesting, let alone implementing their own ideas on how the corporation should be cut. Yet while it's a half-hearted effort, it's also one which suggests the BBC simply doesn't understand why the likes of 6 Music and Asian Network have found their own niche and why their closure is likely to be so vigorously opposed: it's because they offer something so radically different and which no commercial rival has the resources or nous to deliver. On the face of it 6 Music is ostensibly an indie music station, but it goes far beyond that through the relationship it cultivates with its listeners, and through the genuine love of music which the vast majority of the presenters on it have and want to share. Asian Network, even if its audience has been declining, offers a voice to those who otherwise find it difficult to make themselves heard, even if it can be seen as self-defeating through the ghettoising of the content. Plainly, the BBC thinks it can do away with both mainly because middle Britain is interested in neither, and only cares about Radio 2 and Radio 4, a sacrifice which it can justify to itself easily. Some cynics are suggesting that it's chosen 6 Music and Asian Network specifically because it knows that they have such a dedicated following that the uproar at their disappearance will ensure the BBC Trust intervenes, and while it's difficult to dismiss entirely, the other parts of the report are just as apparently ignorant of why it remains popular.
Why else would the BBC so bizarrely ignore BBC3 when it was considering what could be cut? Here's a station that costs a staggering £115m a year and which has in its years of broadcast created at best 5 programmes which have been either critical or commercial successes, the latest of which is Being Human. The BBC openly admits that Channel 4 has been better than them at reaching the 16-25 market, hence the closure of Switch and Blast, so why not chuck the execrable BBC3 on the bonfire as well? It does nothing which BBC2 or BBC4 couldn't commission instead, and would be a statement of intent which would reverberate far beyond the shutting of 6 Music and the Asian Network. Extend it further and you could also justify the privatising of Radio 1 or/and the closure of 1Xtra. 1Xtra looks an especially expensive and slow to react indulgence when compared to say, the vibrancy with which the pirate stations in London, Rinse FM especially, have all while under the threat of raids and imminent closure. This would still leave the BBC able to target the 16-35 demographic which the PE report wanted the BBC to leave to others, but with a respectable budget and without patronising them on their "own" stations, as it has done for years with the utterly crass comedies BBC3 has mostly offered.
Along with the emasculation of BBC4, with the removal of "entertainment" and comedy, which presumably means Charlie Brooker is out of a job unless a home is found for him on BBC2, the whole report is the BBC retreating to what it thinks it's good at it and what it thinks others think it's good at. It seems to be a report which falls directly into how the BBC is stereotyped abroad: all those worthy costume dramas and as bias free journalism as it's possible to produce without realising that as admired the corporation is for those things, it's also liked because the licence fee means it can do things that others would never imagine doing or could never justify. As much as we love the HD nature documentaries, we'd like some bite and the unusual along with it. This report is likely to be the first step in a retrenchment strategy which leads to the Kelvin MacKenzie and Murdoch-approved final solution of a BBC consisting of BBC1, BBC2 and Radio 4, all thoroughly non-threatening and all as dull as dishwater. Why else, after all, unless you were seeking Murdoch approval, would you leak a draft of the report to the Times, which then savaged it as not going anywhere near far enough? When the BBC stops caring what rivals think about it and becomes comfortable and confident enough to defend itself on its own terms, then the programmes might also reflect that strength and purpose. Until then it seems that death by a thousands cuts is the way of the future.