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28/08/2002

C4 chief claims "BBC commercialism risks licence fee"

Speaking at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Tim Gardam, director of programming at Channel 4, has warned the BBC that its "aggressively commercial behaviour" is endangering the licence fee.
He claimed the BBC was putting its future on the line with its behaviour, warning it to rein in its ratings charge and hand regulatory control to Ofcom, the new communications watchdog, and not to the board of governors.
"The BBC is too good and too full of talent to risk its reputation by appearing always to want to get away with it. It risks the argument that the governors should not be custodians of the BBC but of the licence fee. And it risks the argument that the licence fee should be open to bids from others with comparable or greater public service ambitions," he said.
He also called for a stronger sense of purpose from Broadcasting House and urged the BBC to engage with neglected parts of UK society.
"In an ever more complicated landscape, we need to hear much more loudly and clearly what it is that the BBC believes in besides believing in the BBC.
"When the BBC revels in beating ITV in the so-called ratings war, am I the only one to notice how a BBC ratings triumph now becomes a BBC news item? When we are told that the BBC likes to win, shouldn't we also be told what the BBC wants to win for? What is the purpose of all this machismo?" he said.
Mr Gardam also accused the BBC of lowering the overall standard of British broadcasting by chasing ratings.
"If television as a whole is fighting a ratchet of formulaic conformity at present, as I believe it is, if the BBC doesn't raise its sights, if it seems to treat current affairs, religion, the arts, international affairs on sufferance, it is all the more difficult for us to keep our sights high too," he said.
He said the BBC's decision to team up with BSkyB in a successful bid for the digital television licences indicated a cynical approach to public service broadcasting.
"Does the BBC think it matters what happens to the rest of public service broadcasting? When the BBC and Sky won the digital terrestrial platform recently, and the BBC vetoed it having a pay element, thus blocking E4 and FilmFour, it essentially carved up the future with Sky. Sky to dominate pay TV, the BBC to dominate free-to-air," he said.
Mr Gardam ended a speech in which he likened Greg Dyke's taking over the BBC from John Birt to Khrushchev replacing Stalin and compared the BBC and BSkyB to the final scene in George Orwell's Animal Farm:
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig, and from pig to man again. But already it was impossible to tell which was which," he said.
(GB)
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