The language of compliance 

29 August 2009

Broadcast Now: Stephen Fry savages TV box-ticking

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that BBC TV (and radio) producers are now self-censoring much more often than not because of the additional hassles of compliance that have been enforced in the aftermath of all those previous scandals (Crowngate, Sachsgate, etc.) which essentially cost time and (by definition) money as a consequence.

There’s also no hesitation in blaming the BBC’s Mark Thompson for the resulting paranoia, especially when it was just the idiotic behaviour of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross that resulted in many of the subsequent restrictions, even though there was a real production control issue that needed to be addressed at that point.

It’s arguable that BBC management are effectively over-compensating for editorial slip-ups further down the management chain, and to some extent they are probably also scared of the potential consequences of further scandals that may result from a relative lack of control.

Since BBC-Government relations effectively began to drift further apart post-Hutton Report, BBC management have also started to live with the fear of being sidelined in key BBC-related decisions, especially in relation to Ofcom potentially having a more dominant role in the regulation of BBC content when it comes to judgments of taste and decency.

Maybe it is true that “Daily Mail reader” is now partly running the BBC, perhaps aided and abetted by the puritan viewpoints of certain politicians in relation to what a licence fee-funded public service broadcaster can and cannot do in regards to what it can or cannot broadcast.

Which in turn leads back to justifying the licence fee, which is perhaps what is behind much of the paranoia that is currently stalking the corridors of the BBC; to upset Daily Mail readers in turn makes the licence fee that bit less justifiable, never mind the fact that those same readers never watch or listen to anything remotely controversial.

So genuine past issues (presenters/producers “out of control”, excessive “fakery”…) have been overlaid with management paranoia and an unwillingness to take real personal responsibility in some quarters, and all of this combined with a increasingly fractious BBC-Government relationship just ends up making things worse.

Perhaps the only real solution to the problem is a wholesale change of top-level BBC management, but that won’t happen unless there is another major crisis. So until that happens you will probably just have to live with much of the risk taken out of BBC television and radio broadcasts.