Breaking the spell 

24 June 2010 tbs.pm/1194

Whilst waiting to discover its eventual fate, the BBC Trust has to at least appear ‘useful’ as a regulator of the BBC, therefore it’s no surprise to learn that the Trust is still taking the moral high ground in relation to indirect product placements because realistically that’s the only difference of opinion it can have apart from the occasional major slip-up.

Of course it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that the BBC could actually be capable of making its own ‘correct’ decisions on a day-to-day basis, but a recent lack of PR finesse combined with a few own-goals and an economic downturn has put paid to dreams of virtual autonomy in respect of the corporation.

Therefore anything as commercially contentious as Radio 1 devoting a day’s broadcasting to a Harry Potter film is bound to attract the Trust’s attention for the wrong reasons even if a touch of overenthusiasm is perhaps forgivable given the circumstances.

It’s also easy to argue that this event was significantly different in nature compared to a previous (and wider-ranging) U2 concert promotion for which the BBC apologised for back in January, especially as public interest in the Harry Potter film comfortably exceeded any promotional gain attainable.

Plus there would obviously be a great deal of interest in anything Harry Potter-related amongst a good percentage of Radio 1’s target audience at the time, therefore to largely ignore the film altogether (except, perhaps, from a few brief mentions) could be counterproductive in terms of making Radio 1 relevant to the cultural tastes of its listeners.

Now if Radio 1 had devoted a whole day’s broadcasting to a relatively unknown movie that was made by one of the major Hollywood production houses, then you would be right to be at least a bit suspicious, but surely this particular Harry Potter movie would have been hugely successful regardless of how much attention Radio 1 gave to it at the time?

What is desperately needed from the BBC is not yet another grovelling apology from management, but clear and concise guidelines relating to the prominence of commercial products (surely not that much to ask for?), together with the support of the BBC Trust in relation to how these measures are implemented.

Just as predictably disappointing is the RadioCentre’s kneejerk reaction to the Trust’s verdict, which does nothing to remove the impression that RadioCentre members are only interested in their own blinkered commercial interests as opposed to the listeners they supposedly depend upon as an audience.

Various RadioCentre representatives know all too well exactly what value “celebrity-driven programming” has to Radio 1’s target audience, which is precisely why they are complaining so bitterly about it (and roughly equivalent to ITV complaining about the existence of EastEnders on BBC One).

With such a lack of confidence in relation to its own output, it’s no wonder that much of the UK’s commercial radio is currently in such a sorry state.