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The BBC is among our greatest national institutions and it is revered across the world. But it stands accused of timid journalism, patchy drama and byzantine management. In the final part of her in-depth series on the past, present and future of the BBC, Charlotte Higgins assesses the health of the corporation and the challenges it faces on the road to charter renewal in Light glared off pale stone.
Employees crowded into a sliver of shade to eat their lunchtime sandwiches. On my many visits, I had enjoyed this intimate, ad hoc. It was so different from the portals of its neighbour, new Broadcasting House, opened inwhere there is nothing so improvised and human. Nor is there yet any poetic challenge to the soul, no inscription proclaiming this a temple of the arts, as there is in the foyer of the older building.
Instead, images of BBC personalities — a procession of men — hang above the reception desk: the actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock guise; Idris Elba as Luther; and the physicist Brian Cox staring soulfully at the sun.
I sat in the foyer of new Broadcasting House, watching the ebb and flow of staff as they made their exits and entrances, from among the other visitors waiting to Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc ushered through revolving doors to the inner chambers.
Once there, suddenly illuminated by an uncanny reddish glow, you can look down into the newsroom thrumming away below you in the basement, or upwards to the glass walls Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc rise above. The newsroom should have had columns like great trees supporting it, according to the original vision of the architect, the late Sir Richard MacCormacbut along the way — and amid acrimony — the corporation dropped this flourish on budgetary grounds.
The building seems to me to resemble the institution itself — the new and the old tangled together in uncertain harmony; high artistic ambitions sometimes compromised; a certain corporate pomposity undercut by small, humane gestures. How healthy is the BBC of today? Will it flourish for another 92 years, and another? As I sat in the foyer, staff passes cheeping through the security barriers, I Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc what I had learned about this corporation over the past 10 months.
What had surprised me was its vulnerability. It may be a great vessel, but it is blasted and buffeted on every side by powerful and ruthless enemies. Its universality — we all pay for it through the TV licence, and it is far and away the largest and richest cultural organisation in the country — also renders it uniquely exposed. Its every move is monitored, analysed, discussed. A cadre of Fleet Street journalists exists solely to pick relentlessly over its bones, some of them, especially on the political right, spurred by deep-rooted political objections to the way the BBC is funded, and to the entire notion of the BBC as an ideological intervention in our national life.
It is with us in our homes, our cars, our phones, and on our computer screens; it is our omnipresent, intimate companion. Our relationship with the BBC has changed in recent years: we are in an age that has seen the fracturing of the media, and the BBC has found it necessary to head out into the world to find its audiences wherever they may be — on the TV and radio, but also on apps, satellite and cable channels, and online. Once, the BBC represented a truly communal experience, when 20 million viewers would simultaneously watch Morecambe and Wise on a Saturday night.
No longer. The BBC is not, as it once was, a cathedral in which we all gather together, but rather a many-roomed palace in which we are free to roam, where we will encounter others with whom to marvel at its riches, but through which we will nonetheless choose our own route, pace and narrative. Despite this increasingly fragmented experience, for most people the BBC is the national institution that most powerfully touches their inner lives — working its way into our sense of ourselves as individuals and part of a community, our convictions, our imaginations.
And if the screen is a kind of mirror into which the nation gazes, we are often in sharp disagreement about the accuracy of the reflection.
The BBC is a space in which the most fundamental anxieties about cultural identity and political purpose can be fought out — often bitterly. Every day the BBC citadel withstands the slings and arrows of the rightwing press and politicians.
Indeed, there are fears on the centre-left that the Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc has consciously or unconsciously drifted to the right, exhausted by the daily clamouring of its noisiest critics, and no longer quite holds the impartial centre. There are fears too that, still bruised a decade after its wrestling match with the last government over its coverage of the runup to the Iraq war — a bout that ended with the reation of both its director general, Greg Dykeand its chairman, Gavyn Davies — the BBC can be pusillanimous in some of its reporting, that it fears to challenge the most sensitive elements of the British establishment.
In the US, Australia, mainland Europe, especially Germany, in Asia, especially Indonesia, and in Latin America, especially Brazil and Mexico, the revelations concerning Prism and Tempora — the secret programmes used for mass surveillance of communication in the US and UK respectively — were treated with real seriousness and provoked urgent public debate. So did Channel 4 News. The BBC — which by virtue of its sheer scale holds the ring of national debate — remained almost mute.
And so it was that of all the nations in the world, it was on its home turf that the Guardian remained virtually a lone voice. The courage and integrity of foreign correspondents such as Jeremy Bowen and Lyse Doucet was, to me too, self-evident. I was thinking, rather, of a different order of danger: not personal, physical danger but danger to the BBC as an institution.
Does the BBC really have the appetite, two years before it agrees a new charter Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc a new licence fee with the government, to go up against the British establishment at its most secret and powerful? Some weeks earlier, when I asked the BBC director of news and current affairs, James Harding, whether he would have run with the Snowden story if it had come directly to him, he argued that the issue was not that it touched on such delicate matters of state — but rather that it was, he claimed, a piece of campaigning journalism that was invested in a particular outcome.
I think the thing that is really tricky on Snowden is where you get yourself straddling a line between reporting a story and campaigning a story. And the nature of that kind of leak and that kind of story was that the person who held the information wanted a certain story and to roll it out in a certain way. However, there was no deal between the Guardian and Snowden to give the story a specific angle or to campaign for a particular outcome. British civil society depends upon it.
If journalism is at the heart of the BBC, the matter by which it stands or falls, its television drama, is what most of us think of when we think of our own enjoyment of the BBC. This is personal territory. Each of us has our loves and prejudices, our notion of what is good and valuable. In short, much as I had enjoyed and admired recent BBC drama, both in the quality of its writing and its extraordinary performances especially from actors such as Keeley Hawes and Sarah Lancashire it was in the theatre that I had found the most formally adventurous, exuberantly ambitious and unexpected original writing.
Hall said he was keen to link BBC drama more strongly with British theatre — that was one of the reasons he had recently invited Sir Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre, to become a non-executive director of the BBC. Two series of House of Cards works out at 24 hours of television. Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc the consumer, there are enormous differences too. Nor does a version of a bestselling, prize-winning novel that has already been successfully adapted for the stage, however excellent it may turn out to be, suggest startling originality.
Hall also referred to the commissioning of a second tranche of Shakespeare history plays, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed The Hollow Crown season offor which Sam Mendes executive-produced films of Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two, and Henry V. He regards the whole episode with a certain scepticism. They asked me to send tapes over to them. He shifted impatiently in his seat — we were speaking near his office in Chelsea.
Question: how many BBC drama employees went on location? How many watched the rushes? How many went to the rough cuts? How many went to the fine cuts? How many went to the sound mix? How many people saw the finished version? And yet it ended up on the air. You can make terrible programmes: you can think of The Borgiaslots of horrible programmes on the BBC, but at least you could hear what they were saying.
Has anybody been fired? Things have changed vastly for the better over the past couple of years, he told me. Several years ago he spent a year developing a script for the BBC about young western travellers in Thailand, including spending time in the country. The script went back and forth endlessly, working its way through many drafts. The process was enervating. It was as if you had to pass all these different levels and these different baddies before you get to the big baddy at the end.
But he feels a quiet despair at the commissioning process even for BBC radio — which operates as a structured, staged submission process taking several months from idea to green light. He compared the process with that on magazines such as the New Yorker, where editors are strongly empowered curators, forging relationships with writers, constantly questing outwards for new ideas; or indeed the commissioning process in British theatre.
And that caused a lot of resentment and still does. I resented it personally. Hall has much to do as the charter-renewal process begins. Hall is a Birtista by professional background as a young man he was plucked from the ranks by the former director general to run BBC TV news. He is thus beginning to seize the initiative, but there is much else to do — not least, and this is a matter that Hall cannot resolve on his own, the quieting of the seemingly endless debate about the governance of the BBC. Much will depend on the choice of the new chaira heavy responsibility for the Conservatives.
At the moment, if rumours are to be believed, several plausible candidates have withdrawn from consideration. The job is starting to look like a poisoned chalice. I began to think of the BBC as if it were a church: supported by high ideals, feeding our inner lives, sustained by the goodwill of the faithful, and, sometimes — like all large institutions — infuriating in its internal workings. It is a survivor from another age, when the notion of a technological advancement being harnessed for the commonwealth was not a fanciful one, when calling the BBC templum artiuma temple of the arts, was not faintly embarrassing.
But it is part of what makes this country different from anywhere else in the world. Without the BBC we would be poorer in spirit. We would know less about the world: our cultural, musical and political lives would be diminished; our curiosity neither so piqued nor so sated. It thre itself through our lives, and I can barely imagine my days starting without the weather app and the Today programme, and ending with the Proms, The World Tonight or — yes — a cop drama.
Those who love it expect much from it: we expect more from it. We cheer it on, but we urge it to do better. We still believe. We do not wish to see it stumble. We do not wish to hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar. The future of the BBC: you either believe in it or you don't. In the final part of her in-depth series on the past, present and future of the BBC, Charlotte Higgins assesses the health of the corporation and the challenges it faces on the road to charter renewal in Read the full series of The BBC Report. Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc Higgins.
Wed 20 Aug Dividing public opinion How healthy is the BBC of today? Reuse this content.Need a Portland Oregon hot hard bbc
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